This weekend, Northwest Film Forum is screening several films—including this one!—as part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival's Satellite Screen program. Learn more about the program here.
Adamma and Adanne Ebo’s Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. is a riotous skewering of Southern megachurch culture in all its excesses, exploitations, and contradictions. Shot in a Guestian mockumentary style, the film switches between hilarious vignettes and high-emotion scenes, and at its center is a banner performance from Sundance all-star Regina Hall, who believably hits the movie’s odd beats to make it one of the best of the fest.
Hall embodies Trinitie Childs, the flustered first lady of Georgia's "Wander to Greater Pathways" megachurch. She wants to get her life back on track after a scandal causes a mass exodus of congregants, forcing the church to close down temporarily. See, word got out that young men accused her God-fearin’ self-involved pastor-husband Lee-Curtis (a pitch-perfect Sterling K. Brown) of sexual misconduct. And in an ill-advised attempt to stage their comeback, the cursed couple invites a documentary crew to follow them as they prepare for the church's first Sunday back.
Predictably, things go south.
The fictional documentarians are more interested in the very Christian contradictions the Childs personify—their Prada suits, frivolously expensive church hats, and several sexed-up cars. There’s an enormous gaudy fountain inside their church that Trinitie and Lee-Curtis do a Charlie’s Angels style shoot in front of. In one scene set outside their church, Trinitie gets dressed down for standing by her man on camera by former congregants. Most of them have all absconded to a rival church run by a young couple (played delightfully Nicole Beharie and Conphidance). In another scene, despite their prim image, Trinitie and Lee-Curtis bump Crime Mob’s fight-hymn “Knuck If You Buck,” reciting each verse with devoted earnestness. It’s hilarious.
Throughout it all, Hall plays Trinitie with ridiculous desperation. A gifted comic and dramatic actress, Hall gives believable heft to silly lines (“Have you ever seen a rat go from the inside of the house to the outside of a house? They chew through. So we are going to gnaw through the hardest parts,” in an absolute bimbo reflection on the scandal). And behind her megawatt smile and shiny hair, Trinitie’s eyes are pure panic. She often tries to tell the crew to cut. They don't.
But in more contemplative moments, Hall plays Trinitie’s shattered faith with a focused and subtle intensity—particularly when the Childs begin to see that their church may never return to its former glory. Their attempts to attract parishioners get increasingly more desperate, with Lee-Curtis forcing Trinitie to stand outside the church waving a “Honk for Jesus” poster.
Hall’s ability to straddle both comedic and dramatic performance helps glue together the often inconsistent tone of Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. The movie flips between mockumentary and traditional film scenes, using a format change to indicate shifts in perspective. The off-camera scenes are cool-toned and emotionally fraught, contradicting the documentary portion, which is often bright and silly. Both perspectives give a more well-rounded view of Lee-Curtis and Trinitie as characters, but the device makes the movie feel non-committal.
Regardless, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. is an impressive and clever debut feature film from director-writer-producer team (and twins) Adamma and Adanne Ebo. It's an expansion of Adamma's 2018 short film of the same name, which she submitted for her master's thesis at UCLA. The short eventually caught the attention of mogul Issa Rae, who wanted to feature it on her company Hoorae’s #ShortFilmSundays YouTube program. Honk for Jesus proved immensely popular on that platform, opening up doors to turn it into a feature-length production.
And with Hall in its driver's seat, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. is not to be missed.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul will play at Northwest Film Forum on Sunday, January 30 at 7:30 pm. More info here.