Having become a fan of Indiana born filmmaker Jason Horton's growing body of indie film work, including suck flicks as Monsters in the Woods and Trap among others, I always look forward to that day when I receive another e-mail from Horton or simply open up my mail to find another screener from the filmmaker and screenwriter.
Lately, Horton has been making quite a name for himself in the indie faith-based filmmaking market and The Congregation is his latest effort that should attract the attention of faith-based moviegoers. The film kicks off with Rain (Courtney Harris) every so lightly introducing us to the church that she loves, a church that has been scarred a couple times recently with sex scandals involving the pastor. There's a new pastor in place, but it's pretty clear from the get go that not everyone is quite ready to move on from the trauma and the drama of the past.
The film also features a classically over-the-top performance from veteran actress Shari Headley (Coming to America and Johnson Family Vacation) along with such folks as Jerome Ro Brooks, a veteran actor/singer whose appearances include such films as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and HBO's The Wire.
The Congregation, penned by Camara Davis, with whom Horton has previously worked, is clearly meant as one of those ever so popular ensemble church comedies that pokes gentle fun at church life while making more than a few valid points along the way. While the film has some humor that would work with secular audiences, this is one of those films that will likely find its longest life once it hits the home video market and faith-based moviegoers can find it at their favorite online outlet or bricks-and-mortar outlet.
If I had to venture a comparison, I'd most likely place The Congregation in that long line of Tyler Perry inspired dramedies that we see arriving either in limited release or for sale at the local Christian bookstore. While Perry's rather fundamental style of filmmaking doesn't necessarily work for everyone, it has registered with his core audience and the faith-based crowd, especially the African-American faith-based crowd, continues to embrace him. The Congregation does center around a largely African-American congregation, a fact that is pointed out in one of the film's key scenes.
The Congregation isn't a perfect film and I can't say it's one of my favorites of Horton's efforts. The film's pacing is just a tad off and, perhaps most troubling from someone who attended a largely Black college and attended many services within a largely Black church, is that the film lacks the over-the-top yet affectionate quality that is so often present. Have you ever seen the "Curtis" cartoon strip where Curtis is often sitting in a pew making fun of the numerous hats that come walking up the aisle? That's almost exactly what I mean.
The Congregation, at least far too often, portrays this particular congregation as a congregation that wouldn't much inspire loyalty, love or any sense of affection but instead conflict and division.
The Congregation still gets a modest recommendation from me mainly because it's a film that will likely inspire laughs and familiar recognition with its target audience and there's certainly not enough indie faith-based cinema available and it's rather refreshing to see Horton continuing to put out entertaining and thoughtful indie cinema on a modest budget.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic