You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

God’s Land

Preston Miller deftly navigates his pic's unusual tonal mix, balancing absurdity, melodrama, comedy of manners and an unblinking ethnographic stare.

With: Jodi Lin, Shing Ka, Matthew Chiu, Wayne Chang, Jackson Ning, Gloria Diaz. John Wu, Amy Chiang, Carrrie Kiamesha. (English, Mandarin dialogue)

In 1998, members of a Taiwanese religious cult traveled to Garland, Texas, to await the appearance of God on television and transportation to other dimensions by spacecraft. Preston Miller’s “God’s Land” mines the transcripts of the group’s actual press conferences for the context (and often the dialogue) of this fictional story about a true believer, his unbelieving wife and their 8-year-old son. Miller deftly navigates his pic’s unusual tonal mix, balancing absurdity, melodrama, comedy of manners and an unblinking ethnographic stare. But the film’s nearly three-hour length may consign it to cult status after its Oct. 28 Gotham bow.

As in Miller’s well-received (if obscure) debut film, “Jones,” about a Southerner adrift in New York, humor arises from the juxtaposition of characters and surroundings. Sporting white cowboy hats to blend in with the natives, but also white sweatsuits that make them stick out like sore thumbs, the followers of Teacher Chen (Jackson Ning) wander the malls and supermarkets of the small Texas town like visitors from another planet.

Apparently nothing much happens in Garland, to judge from the amount of TV coverage dedicated to the cult and the lurid mass-suicide scenarios that run like wildfire through its citizenry. Counterpointing daily routines in the homes of various townsfolk, television sets feature Teacher Chen’s soft-voiced, bespectacled spokesperson (Wayne Chang) expounding on oddball prophecies or extolling the sentient virtues of soda pop.

The experience of being a sect member is largely seen through the eyes of Xiu (Jodi Lin), a doctor from a rich family who doesn’t share the utopian beliefs of her husband, Hou (Shing Ka). Chafing at always having to wear white or share a house with another couple, Xiu is torn between her need to stand by her man and her fear of where he will lead her and son Ollie (Matthew Chiu). Like good Sirkian melodrama, her dilemma presents a strange confluence of deep emotion and superficiality.

Miller’s attitude toward his characters is ambiguously multilayered. Though Xiu appears shallow and Hou naively deluded, they genuinely love each other and struggle mightily with their conflicting beliefs. And even if their leader’s peculiarly Taiwan-centric visions of the Rapture and apocalyptic tribulation seem like a crackpot’s passing fancies, the spiritual enclave operates like a vegan hippie commune, with Teacher Chen its beaming, benevolent Buddha.

Miller maintains a fascinating equilibrium between abstraction and narrative, with long, motionless takes of characters simply staring at the camera at regular intervals and eccentric rhythmic breaks; press conferences routinely stop mid-sentence as Teacher Chen and his disciples gaze heavenward to track the flight of a passing airplane.

“God’s Land” reportedly cost a mere $15,000 to make, and its low budget, overall completely belied by strong lensing and aptly awkward thesping, manifests itself in poor soundtrack quality and the fact that, though the script implies multitudes, only a dozen or so apostles are ever seen.

God's Land

Production: A Vindaloo Philm-Wallah production. Produced by Jeremiah Kipp. Directed, written by Preston Miller.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Arsenio Assin, Sheldon Smith; editor, Krishna Kotopelli Anderson; sound, David Groman, Alex T. Gavin, Jeremiah Kipp, Smith; wardrobe, Sharon Spiak; associate producer, Shing Ka; assistant director, Gavin; casting, Wayne Chang. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Oct. 23, 2011. Running time: 164 MIN.

With: With: Jodi Lin, Shing Ka, Matthew Chiu, Wayne Chang, Jackson Ning, Gloria Diaz. John Wu, Amy Chiang, Carrrie Kiamesha. (English, Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Sophia Antipolis

    Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Sophia Antipolis'

    There are two Sophias in French director Virgil Vernier’s clever, cunning, chilling fifth feature. The first is its setting, the eponymous “Sophia Antipolis,” a technology park in the south of France, a place self-consciously designed as an experiment in social engineering, where an international community of professionals would, it was hoped, create an environment of [...]

  • I Lost My Body

    Netflix Pickup ‘I Lost My Body,’ ‘Buñuel,’ ‘Away’ Top Annecy Festival

    ANNECY, France  — Fulfilling expectations, Jeremy Clapin’s “I Lost My Body, the subject of one of the highest-profile Netflix deals at this year’s Cannes, won this Saturday the Annecy Festival’s top Cristal Award of best feature plus, in a relatively rare Annecy double whammy, the festival’s Audience Award. The first was expected, the second a [...]

  • 'Fausto' Review: Andrea Bussmann's Beautuful, Inscrutable

    Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Fausto'

    In more ways than one, “Fausto” is a film that likes to keep its audience in the dark: The bulk of its imagery is thickly cloaked in velvety night, often barely illuminated but for pinpricks of moonlight or a flickering candle, sometimes to the point where viewers must strain and squint to identify what they’re [...]

  • Toy Story 4

    The 15 Best Films of 2019 (So Far)

    By now, audiences have caught on to the way American distributors tend to stockpile their quality movies for end-of-year award-season release, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t treasures to be found in the first two quarters. In fact, sometimes it’s the movies that aren’t making a self-important Oscar push that wind up hitting closest to [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth (H) with Em (Tessa

    'Men In Black: International' Taking in $26 Million Amid Franchise Fatigue

    North American moviegoers spurned sequels this weekend with Sony’s “Men in Black: International” heading for a modest $26 million debut while “Shaft” will finish with a dismal $7.3 million in seventh place. “Men in Black: International,” the fourth iteration of the sci-fi comedy franchise, is performing under expectations, which had been in the $30 million [...]

  • Night scenery of the Bund in

    Shanghai Festival Defies Gloom to Open on Upbeat Note

    The Chinese film industry may not yet have emerged from a “cold winter” production freeze, nor its box office kept pace with 2018. But but those inclement elements did not put a chill on the pageantry at the Shanghai International Film Festival. The opening ceremony for the festival’s 22nd edition went ahead Saturday with the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content