Debut film follows sect in turmoil as the end of days approaches

The New York TimesJuly 24, 2014 

  • 'As It Is in Heaven' review

    ★★★★

    Not rated. Cinema Purgatorio. 1:27. Kentucky.

As It Is in Heaven opens quietly yet with unmistakable joy as the camera tracks a white-robed young woman through gracious rooms and lush gardens to the banks of a sparkling river. Joining the other members of her small religious sect, she watches their prophet (John Lina) baptize a new recruit (Chris Nelson) and give him the name David.

Cut to one year later, and a cooler, more fractured tone prevails. The prophet has died, naming David as his successor over his own son, Eamon (Luke Beavers), and the end of days is approaching. In grief and apprehension, the members acquiesce to David's steely conviction that only by extreme suffering will they be worthy of redemption. Eamon, distrusting David's zealotry, is not so sure and decides to investigate his new leader.

Shot in just 17 days with the help of students and equipment at Asbury University, this low-budget debut by Joshua Overbay cooks a surprising amount of tension from the barest minimum of ingredients. Examining the rewards and consequences of faith with empathy and without judgment, Overbay (who wrote the story with his wife, Ginny Lee Overbay) maintains tight control of the sect's darkening mood and waning strength.

Keeping in step, Isaac Pletcher's lustrous wide-screen images emphasize the need for unity and the perils of individual action, mapping exultant beginning to tormented end with a lyricism that makes dialogue all but irrelevant. Were the sound to fail at any point, it's unlikely that viewers would lose their way.

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