Originally released in 2016, this low-budget political/religious thriller opens with a rather unsettling scene. An obviously disturbed woman wanders down a suburban street, loudly singing This Little Light of Mine. She stops in front of one house and starts to screech the lyrics, like a banshee predicting future doom.
The house is the home of Congressman Neil Barlow (Don Brooks) and both he and his wife Catherine (Kera O’Bryan) are about to discover that their teenage daughter has been taken away. She has left home and she is now living with a religious communal cult. When the FBI approaches the cult’s headquarters, all of the members drink poison in a mass suicide. Neil Barlow becomes determined to one day become President so that he can stamp out the scourge of religious extremism.
18 years later, Neil Barlow is president and he’s just announced the creation of the Department of Religious Freedom. Televangelist Randy Mason (Tim Ross) is put in charge of the Department but it turns out that this is just the beginning of Barlow’s plan to change America. Barlow soon announces that all religions are going to come together under the umbrella of one state-run church. Across America, people watch the press conference and say things like, “This will cut down on division,” and “We all believe the same thing anyways.” The Department of Religious Freedom proceeds to outlaw all of the old religious texts and requires that all religious leaders preach the same pre-approved sermon. Failure to do so can lead to being sent to a reeducation camp.
Randy’s brother, Jake Mason (Jason Frederick), knows a little about what has happened but not everything. He’s been down in Mexico, ministering to a small village. When Jake returns to America, he discovers that it’s no longer the country that he once thought it was. Along with his girlfriend, Beth Barlow (Jessica Lynch), Jake tries to stand up against the One Church. Beth also happens to be the President’s daughter and she, more than anyone, understands the anger that is fueling Neil Barlow’s actions.
I have an admitted weakness for low-budget, conspiracy-themed movies and One Church is definitely qualifies. Say what you will about the film’s plot and themes, it’s hard not to appreciate a film in which the President gives a major, history-changing press conference in what appears to be a high school auditorium. The offices of a major news network are represented by a small room that has several televisions propped up against the wall. The White House dining room is about the same size as my dining room. The future president of the United States lives in a house that’s about the size of the house where I live. Suddenly, I’m feeling very important!
As for the film itself, it actually makes the perfect case for maintaining the separation of Church and State. As soon as the State gets involved in religion, it starts using the Church as a way to control the citizens and to make itself more powerful. Preachers like Randy Mason are easily corrupted once they’re in partnership with the government. As for the citizens, they’re portrayed as being eager to be ordered about, which is perhaps the most realistic thing about One Church. Beth is played by the same Jessica Lynch who was, in 2003, captured by and subsequently rescued from the Taliban. She has appeared in a few films over the past few years, usually in small roles. She’s actually a surprisingly good actress and she certainly gives the best performance in One Church.