Overview: A man is called to lead backwoods cult followers into the final days. 2014; Unrated; 86 Minutes.
A Subdued Focus: As It Is In Heaven displays an uncanny and impressive lack of urgency. In his first feature length film, Director Joshua Overbay and Screenwriter Ginny Lee Overbay have constructed a story that doesn’t shoulder its way into any position of religious examination. There is no desire to commend or condemn religious structure or belief, only to witness it. At no point is the fabric of the faith of any singular character called into examination. The narrative approach is strict, intimate observation, which allows for a hypnotic illustration of the film’s central character. After David (Chris Nelson) is called upon by a dying prophet to lead the residents of a religious commune toward an apocalypse that has been promised to them, his illustration is unexpectedly and effectively reserved compared to similarly crafted religious leaders in films from this century. Compare Nelson’s David to John Hawkes’ Patrick (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Britt Marling’s Maggie (Sound of My Voice), or even Paul Dano’s Eli Sunday (There Will be Blood) and you’ll see a shockingly human character, one who is never moved to serve the story or the storyteller’s central point. David is mesmerizing in his humanness, in his doubt, his naked manipulation, and even his murderous missteps.
Intimacy in Craftsmanship: The story works to such inobtrusive effect in part because the craftsmanship dictates that interpretation. The camera of As It Is In Heaven is in no rush to investigate the serene landscape on which the focal religious settlement is established. Cinematographer Isaac Pletcher and Editor Lauren Nicolette allow shots to linger and stare where others might cut away or scan. Similarly, the sound mixing and editing of the film permit the audience to become submerged within the setting– isolated calls of wildlife and the sharp rustle of leaves moving at the direction of the wind, there’s an acoustic submersion that shows attention to craft one would not expect to find in a film of this limited budget. It is in these small details where the promise of this new filmmaker are most emphatically punctuated.
Full Immersion: In the film’s climactic moments, when David guides his followers to the river to meet the end-of-time, there is a hushed stretch of waiting, wherein the perspective closes in on David’s face and he stares directly into the camera, a direct threat to the fourth wall. Had this moment been described to me before viewing, I might have expected this technique to be of cheap novelty. But after having witnessed Nelson’s unassuming performance and Overbay’s skilled, patient directing, the moment worked to fill me with an unnerving mix of sympathy and dread for whatever resolution David was about to find, apocalypse or disappointment.