Monday, February 2, 2015

Movie Review: As It Is in Heaven

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

What happens when the "things hoped for" simply don't happen? How can you be sure you're following the right convictions? Or is that the point of faith--to move forward in confidence even in the midst of uncertainty and doubt?

In Joshua Overbay's As It is in Heaven, the question of faith hangs in the eerie stillness of a small gathering of believers as they await the coming Lord. These faithful disciples find strength in the words of the Prophet, Edward, who tells them of Christ's imminent return. Worshiping and waiting in a large Kentucky farmhouse, Edward's charisma and kindness has drawn an eclectic band of believers. One of these believers is David (Chris Nelson), ruddy and handsome, with bright eyes (see 1 Samuel 16:12). When Edward is suddenly on his deathbed, his son Eamon (Luke Beavers) prepares to lead the religious sect, only to have Edward anoint David as the successor to lead the people into the presence of Christ. His charisma and passion notwithstanding, David's capacity as the next prophet is quickly called into question by both the disciples and himself. When he leads the group into a 30-day fast to await the Lord's coming, the tensions slowly start to build. Is he truly a prophet chosen by God?

A chilling, slow-burn thriller, As It is in Heaven is haunting in every sense. The beautiful Kentucky landscape is wonderfully captured in dream-like visions, while the orchestral soundtrack sets an unsettling tone for the alluring images. While this film draws parallels to Martha Marcy May Marlene--another film about the ongoing impact of cult paradigms and behavior--As It Is in Heaven centers on the cult's impact on its leader, not its followers. The film's focus is almost entirely on David; every other character reacts and responds to his words and actions, many of which are questionable or disturbing. David is an unsettling leader because he clearly cares so deeply about the people he is guiding, yet he is also young and frightened, caught up in a role he never asked for and likely wasn't ready to undertake.

Eamon is clearly the most distressed at David's leadership, and plays the role of foil to David's protagonist. But Eamon is also the only one who seems to clearly see David for who he is--a fraud. So it's strange that he doesn't see his own father in this light, even though both are considered Prophets of a doomsday cult. The world of this religious group is so cut off from the rest of society, isolated in its beliefs and chosen version of reality. Morals, decisions, convictions--they are all run through the controlling framework of "what would David say?" The filmmakers don't paint either David or Eamon as a clear hero or villain; both men are compassionate yet flawed, trying to make the most of the situation at hand and only seeking to do what's right in their own eyes.

Most frightening: As It Is in Heaven feels strikingly similar some churches and ministry leaders I've encountered. The sermons he preaches, the warnings and exhortations, the spiritualized excuses for behavior or immoral decisions, and the zealous worship all ring true to experiences within the evangelical realm. Only, this story is about a doomsday cult. These are ordinary people, mostly likable and considerate, simply trying to live by faith in a seemingly faithless world. They're no different from you and me, which is exactly the point. Sometimes it's unclear who the spiritual heroes and villains truly are. Discerning the true shepherds from the false ones requires wisdom, authentic community, and a strong hold on the truth. We're told in Scripture to recognize a true prophet by their fruits, whether or not they produce life or death in others.

As you watch As It Is in Heaven--and as you decide which faith tradition and leaders to trust--look for the fruits. To have assurance of things hoped for and certainty in the unseen, we'll need the courage and humility to know if and when we've gone astray. Beautiful, disturbing, and provoking, As It Is in Heaven invites us to question our faith in the healthiest possible way, to seek the truth in all things while praying for God's will to be done.

As It is in Heaven is available through online and streaming services, including Apple TV and iTunes, in the U.S. and Canada starting tomorrow, February 3.

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