Film Review: Apparition Hill

Monotonous nonfiction sermon about a group of strangers who travel to Bosnia’s holy Medjugorje site.
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An excessively protracted sermon masquerading as a nonfiction inquiry into a famed religious miracle, Apparition Hill charts the journey of a group of strangers who, for various personal reasons, travel to Bosnia to visit Medjugorje, where in 1981 six local children claimed to have seen and chatted with the Virgin Mary’s apparition—an event that turned the mountainside locale, now adorned with a giant cross and other monuments, into a popular Catholic holy site. These individuals, hailing from across the U.S. and the U.K., all embark on this trip thanks to winning a contest, though the specifics of that competition are never properly explicated by the film, ostensibly so that more of its 116 minutes can be spent simply celebrating the glory of Mary and Christ.

Among the subjects of Apparition Hill are a mother dying of cancer, a drug addict, a 50-year-old single father of nine, and two atheists. It’s those last two men who often take center stage, repeatedly stating that they’re impressed with the community and love felt in Medjugorje, but that they don’t think God is actually present. Why devoted atheists would embark on such a pilgrimage is never sufficiently explained, and their presence calls into question the veracity of their non-believer assertions. That one of them (a cop) incessantly speaks in religious phrases and terms, and ultimately decides to return to Medjugorje on subsequent pilgrimages, only further underscores that suspicion—as does the fact that most of the documentary, made up of people merely regurgitating devout beliefs in intensely pious terms (often in self-shot confessional clips), is obviously pro-Catholicism.

These travelers meet with a variety of priests and holy women, all of whom talk about the majesty of Mary and her powerful impact on their lives, the strength they derive from prayer, and how they only survive, and thrive, thanks to God. In effect, Apparition Hill is just a series of religious speeches—and a drearily repetitive series at that. After its first half-hour, the film has nothing to offer other but similar scenes of people bonding over their shared love of God, and of various interviewees waxing poetic on biblical topics. Meanwhile, director Sean Bloomfield embellishes this material with an overly melodramatic score that strains to imbue the proceedings with import, as well as montages of archival movie and TV clips that hammer home his points about Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil.

Whether one believes in the (interior) miracles that Apparition Hill’s men and women say they experienced depends almost entirely on one’s preexisting convictions, since the film is far less interested in converting skeptics than preaching to its choir. Whether promoting Medjugorje as a magical locale, exploiting the cancer victim’s deathbed passing (here depicted in detail) to further advance its faith, or staging a music-video for a corny Mary-centric version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” it’s a hopelessly narrow and one-dimensional religious doc.

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