Directed by: Nathan Deming
There is a lot to be said for the power of religion; it can bring great comfort to people suffering through grief and pain, it can also give others a sense of purpose or something to live for, and these people can become great leaders and role models. But indie movie Speaking in Tongues looks at how these groups can use their position to shape others who are vulnerable and how certain religious beliefs might conflict with modern society.
Jake (Scott Hennelly) is a young man at college, still undecided on what his studies will be while also mourning the recent loss of his mother. His father, although he means well, is unable to connect with Jake on any emotional level that he needs. Thus, Jake has become lonely, suffering from depression and anxiety.
One day however, he finds solace in a new Christian mega-church called Bright Horizons where he is baptised, and which seems to help him find new purpose in life. Shortly after joining, Jake is approached by a young pastor named Eli (Tyler Esselman) from the church who offers Jake a summer internship in Chicago working for Bright Horizons, helping it to expand in new areas and recruit new members. Excited to be a part of something, Jake agrees, and heads to Chicago, leaving college and his father behind. But after a while he soon realises that this internship will test his allegiance to the church but also bring about a battle with his own morals and beliefs.
The film itself takes a minute or two to get going, but ultimately finds a strong, steady pace shortly after which maintains throughout. Two things are clear in this movie, firstly that the script is very well written; there is no heavy-handed or jarring dialogue and a lot of the time the film allows the expressions from the actors to say more than words could, which is refreshing to watch.
Secondly, it’s clear that Deming is a very capable #filmmaker, being respectful of the theme of the film, which to him is personal, and balancing the perspectives of these kinds of groups from both inside and out.
The acting standard in this #indiefilm is very high across the board. From Scott Hennelly we can easily see the deep sadness Jake is shouldering as he still deals with his mothers’ death, as well how alienated he must feel as a stranger in a strange city. Esselman is the captivating pastor that he needs to be to keep his flock onside, leading them in their motivational sermons and keeping them on the right track with the right words at the right time. All of this is rounded off by the rest of the congregation, who don’t over-dramatise their parts to the point of zealousness.
Based on experiences from the director himself, Speaking in Tongues manages to not be overly critical of religion as a whole, but rather the way that these mega-churches can take advantage of and manipulate young, vulnerable minds. Jake is clearly looking for answers anywhere he can find them after his mothers passing, and the church is more than willing to use that to their advantage.
While it tries not to force its own opinions on the audience, leaving people to make up their own minds on this subject matter, Speaking in Tongues is an honest and well-told account of what life can be like being a part of one of these movements.