There is power in religion: the same way it can save a person, it can also lead them astray. Directed by Nathan Deming and making its world premiere at the 25th annual Austin Film Festival, Speaking in Tongues is based on real-life experiences accounted by Deming after he was born again in the faith of Christianity. What makes this film different than most is how it is framed as a “coming of age atheism story.” Those words are enough to make anyone raise an eyebrow, but Deming handles the subject material with care, allowing the audience to come to their own conclusions after the ending.
Jake (Scott Hennelly) is a lonely college student who suffers from anxiety and depression after his mother’s death. Seeking a higher calling, he joins Bright Horizon, a local megachurch, and becomes baptized. Shortly after this, he is sought out by a young pastor who wants Jake to join him on a summer-long Christian internship to Chicago. Their mission there is to strengthen their bond with the lord and expand the Bright Horizon Church. What Jake doesn’t realize is that this internship is a strenuous test of his faith.
Deming pulls no punches as he shows how challenging it can be to fit in as a new Christian among devoted worshipers. Even though Jake believes in the same calling as the other youth on this internship, he often finds himself alienated. He wants to feel and believe what his fellow brothers have. One of the focuses of the film is how everyone has to go around Chicago trying to convert people over to Christ. This is one of the most real portrayals of modern Christianity, because people react in the film the same way they would in real life. Some avoid eye contact, and others take off when Jake and his fellow worshipers approach them.
Furthermore, things become muddied when you realize not all the interns have their hearts in the right places. Sexuality is always a controversial topic in Christ, and it is no exception in this film. One of the most questionable things the pastor ask his interns to not do while on the trip is to watch porn nor masturbate. This proves harder than you think for our young men and is often a focal point whenever Jake or one of the interns weaken in their faith.
Speaking in Tongues is a complex and quiet meditation on the effects megachurches can have on young adults who are still figuring themselves out. The craftsmanship displayed in this film from the cinematography, to the outright genuine display of acting, is impressive. Deming has a bright future ahead of himself, and Hennelly is an actor worth paying attention to.
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