Reviews

TIFF 2019: DISCO Presents a Chilling Story of a Dark Spiral Through a Cult-Like Conservative Church in Norway

To kick off our TIFF coverage, Lauren reviews a Norweigan film from writer/director Jorunn Myklebust Syversen.

19-year-old Mirjam (Josefine Frida, known for her role as Noora in the hit Norwegian teen drama SKAM) seems to have it all. She holds multiple world titles as a freestyle disco dancer and is the pride of her modern Christian evangelical church where she is a star performer for their flashy and over-the-top pop performances, as well as a youth group leader. 

Disco (2019) – source: Mer Film

Beneath the loud music and the glitz and glam of the disco dance world, Mirjam is silently battling with her own demons that begin to affect her performances in dance and she starts to her question her faith. Mirjam’s heavily religious parents decide that the way to “cure” her of her brain and body fighting against her is to further immerse her in faith. 

Frida gives a breakthrough performance in her first film role, and her ability to switch from a teen girl suffering in silence to an up-beat world class performer is fantastic. She completely steals the show and carries it all the way to its shaky ending. 

With the adults that surround Mirjam all completely engrossed in their often discriminatory beliefs, she falls into a dark and lonely spiral of anxiety and depression that leads her further and further from the hopeful dancer with a bright future that she once was. All the while she is kept in the dark by her mother from the real story of her birth father she knows nothing about, besides the fact that he spent time in jail and sexually abused her cousins, and as assumed in the film, Mirjam herself. 

It is unfortunate that the direction of the plot often feels lost and the intentions can seem unclear, but despite this, the film presents beautiful cinematography with stunning scenes of the activities of the church, Mirjam’s home life, and the dance world. 

Jarring cuts between scenes and an often disjointed storyline reflect Mirjam’s own confusion that surrounds her faith and her family while she is pulled in a million different directions by friends, family, and her own thoughts. The booming music of both the dance competitions and church are followed by strikingly silent shots of a struggling Mirjam while she tries to find solace.

She soon falls into the arms of a church with different beliefs from her own churches, and accepts an invitation to a camp where the kids are told that the extreme acts of self harm and violence they face will help them rid themselves of the devil inside them. 

Disco (2019) – source: Mer Film

With writer/director Jorunn Myklebust Syversen basing these churches off of real-life megachurches to the likes of Hillsong, it only presents an even more terrifying depiction of the extremely conservative beliefs that Mirjam gets caught up in.

The film struggles with some pacing issues that come along with its jarring editing and strings of scenes that don’t seem to fit together. It does well to an extent in reflecting Mirjam’s struggle as mentioned above, but becomes overdone as it continues for the entire run-time. With an ending that leaves no clear conclusion, we are left to decide for ourselves whether or not Mirjam has truly found her sense of peace, or rather is even further from the happiness she had been desperately searching for.

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