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‘As It Is in Heaven’: A disquieting drama about mindset of cults

David (Chris Nelson) takes over as leader cult whose prophet has died “As It Is Heaven.”  |

David (Chris Nelson) takes over as the leader of a cult whose prophet has died in “As It Is in Heaven.” | IN HEAVEN MOVIE LLC

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David Chris Nelson

Eamon Luke Beavers

Abiella Jim Park

Edward John Lina

Cinema Purgatorio presents a film directed by Joshua Overbay and written by Ginny Lee Overbay. Running time: 87 minutes. No MPAA rating). Opens Friday at Facets Multimedia.

Updated: August 12, 2014 6:13AM

When a prophet dies, who prepares his followers to see his prophecy fulfilled? “As It Is in Heaven”— scripted by Ginny Lee Overbay and directed by her husband, Joshua Overbay — is a disquieting film about testing faith.

As he lay dying, prophet Edward (John Lina) tells his small flock to pray for him and not call paramedics. Newly baptized David (Chris Nelson) assumes the leader’s mantle, displacing Edward’s only son Eamon (Luke Beavers). Believers will bury two more members, without county death certificates, during a 30-day fast David enforces with severity.

Donning white robes, the cult awaits the Lord on the 30th day. At dusk. Or at dawn on the 31st.

Spare instrumentals by composers Ben Zoeller and Timothy Morton evoke inner discord and transcendent yearning. Cinematographer Isaac Pletcher adopts the graceful, gliding wide-frame lensing found in Terrence Malik’s “The Tree of Life” (2011), a more ambitious spiritual odyssey.

“I had always found cult leaders fascinating,” Overbay told a Bay Area blogger. He lists Jim Jones, David Koresh and Harold Camping, a more recent prophet. Overbay’s crew includes students from Asbury University, a Christian liberal arts college in Kentucky where he teaches.

“Can filmmakers actually talk about faith in a way that’s without an agenda?” wonders Overbay in a campus magazine. He does not proselytize. “As It Is in Heaven” is a psychological, not theological, inquiry that recalls two secular 2011 films: “Martha Marcy May Marlene” by Sean Durkin and “Shoals” by Chicago filmmaker Melika Bass.

In his 16-minute “Dawn Bloom” (2010), Overbay depicts a Rapture-like global calamity. A last television newscast reports flashes in the sky and an outbreak of hallucinations. Iran, not scripture, is cited. An elderly couple looks skyward at the end, as in “As It Is in Heaven.”

Joshua and Ginny Lee Overbay never doubt the flock or their faith, only their shepherd.

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