With the intention of filming a documentary, college students Hannah (Janessa Floyd), Andrew (Aiden Hart) and Colin (Jeffrey Brabant) decide to attend a Christian retreat in the woods. However, once they arrive they soon find it very different to the picturesque campsite which they were expecting. With the advertised log cabins and swimming pool, attesting to be nothing more than makeshift tents and a lake, they soon realise something is not quite right. Reassured by the eccentric but captivating leader The Messenger (Jeremy Harris), they decide to stay and document the events, but as the scenes in the camp start to take a more unsettling turn they begin to question the true intentions of The Messenger and his followers. The Faith Community will not be too everyone’s taste, due to its slow pace building up the tension and although it does have some strong performances from the cast, it does take a while for anything to start happening.
In keeping with the simple found footage structure, the students only have one very basic camcorder in which to film the documentary, which for most of the film is in the hands of Colin, who is also responsible for conducting the interviews. If you take anything away from this film, it’s never to invite Colin to do your wedding video, unless you want most of your footage shaky, overexposed, out of focus, with images of feet, bushes and poorly aligned shots with heads cut off (not decapitated). Colin’s amateurish style is deliberate, incorporating the visual style we have come to expect from the found footage genre. It can at times be frustrating to watch, director Faith R. Johnson does use some of the seemingly unintentional footage to give suggestions to the viewer of which the characters are unaware. As the cameraman, we don’t see much footage of Colin during the first half of the film, but following a conversation with Michael (Oliver Palmer) you can hear in his voice that he is emotionally distressed as he tells Andrew he wants to leave. Reassured by Andrew that there is nothing to worry about, Colin reluctantly agrees to join the group again and tries to act normal, but as the camera is put down his hands come into view and we can see they are physically shaking with fear.
Another more amusing scene shows some of the dark humour which the film uses unexpectedly throughout the film. During a bizarre play performed by the commune, two of the group are told to bite from a poisoned apple and subsequently fall to the floor after eating. Assuming this is all part of an elaborate performance, Andrew instantly begins to flatter The Messenger in a sycophantic fashion, praising his unique vision for the play and the commitment of the actors in there committed performance in pretending to die. Whilst this is going on the camera captures the lifeless bodies in the background as their heads are covered before being dragged away. Andrew’s naivety regarding the events is amusing for a moment, before taking a darker turn when The Messenger confirms that their death was in fact real and they must now move on to act two.
Jeremy Harris stands out in the film as The Messenger whose eccentric performance sees him consistently moving between a jovial playfulness and an overbearing governance towards the other community members. Despite coming across as welcoming, especially with his amusing urge to constantly perform due to his theatre background, his self-importance creates an unnerving ominous feeling to his character who you feel could snap at any moment.
Alongside The Messenger the group are also controlled by the troubled war veteran Michael, who is played with a dark withdrawn persona by Oliver Palmer. Having been dishonourably discharged from the army and being haunted by shadow apparitions, he is a troubled character. You can see why he would have been drawn to The Messenger as a form of salvation. Although reserved, I really enjoyed Palmer’s on edge performance as it gives his character a sense of uncertainty.
Janessa Floyd also does a great job as Hannah, especially during the later scenes in the film where her character evolves, even though I felt at times that her over acting took away from some of the suspense it was trying to build up. Her performance during a transcendence however worked perfectly in the most effective scene in the film. During a rambling speech, Hannah almost addresses the audience through the camera in a delusional but encapsulating rant, which offers a complete shift in personality. It is a surreal moment of madness which stays with you after the film.
Although the film is not ground breaking regarding the found footage genre, The Faith Community does manage to offer something different with the story and some memorable performances from the talented cast. It would have benefited from a bigger budget, if only to create a more realistic living arrangement for a commune rather than the makeshift tents which they use. However, this is an impressive debut from Johnson and shows what can be achieved on a low budget when you take time to try and develop the characters. As always, this will not appeal to everyone and as with most found footage films it takes a while before the action starts, but if you can stay with the film as it unfolds there is enough here to make it worth a watch.