Norwegian drama Disco from director Jorunn Myklebust Syversen examines in the damaging impact of two devout Christian cults on the life of Mirjam (Josefine Frida Pettersen), a young woman caught up in the evangelical movement. Disco cannot be described as an easy watch, despite lulling viewers in with quietly engaging aesthetics, yet it hits with some powerful knockout blows in its final moments.
Disco dancing champion Mirjam is the star of her local evangelical congregation – run by her pastor stepfather Per (Nicolai Cleve Broch). The church, which appears inspired by flashy US evangelical parishes, boasts strobe lights, nightclub style evangelical pop bangers, and attractive preachers. Attempting to cope with traumas from her past that are bleeding into her performances, Mirjam is recruited by a more extreme evangelical sect which attempts to mould its members adoration of God in extremely unorthodox ways.
Shining through its blend of welcoming rural Norwegian aesthetics, raucous disco performances, and sleek urban evangelical decor, Disco has an impressive visual style – each new location reflecting the changing facets of Mirjam’s journey into further religious evangelism. She is a young woman unsure of her place in the extreme juxtapositions of the contemporary bejewelled world of competitive dance and the puritanical and evangelical religious sects. Yet comparisons can be found in the Mirjam’s flashy world of dance and also the polished, slick and extremely over-the-top emotives of her TV evangelical inspired church.
Jorunn Myklebust Syversen crafts Mirjam as a woman battling an undisclosed abusive trauma and Pettersen channels this with a quiet restlessness. It is this trauma that leads her to the puritanical church of the film’s final act in which young member’s love and commitment for Jesus is tested out an apocalypse inspired, almost-military training procedures. Syversen captures this with a manic energy as midnight drills, aggressive baptisms (essentially drowning), and other extreme tests of dedication. These are shot with in a quiet manner often enhancing the horror of the extremities with only the sounds of nature to ground them.
The final act is where the impact of Disco hits and it is otherwise a somewhat slow-burning, melancholic build-up to these. Whilst more time could perhaps have been spent on these sequences, patient viewers will be rewarded with an intensely hard-hitting pay off.