One of Us ★★★★

When people ask me when and how I got into film, I usually name a specific movie I saw when I was younger that l found particularly influential. But the real reason I started watching movies so frequently was that, around the end of middle school, I would secretly break from my family's Modern Orthodox Jewish rules and spend my entire Saturdays hiding in my room, watching movie after movie on my laptop until sundown, when the Sabbath officially ended and I was 'allowed' to use electricity again. When anyone came near the door, I would have to quickly stuff my laptop under my bed, lest they come in and catch me.

At that point in my life, movies were not just a rebellious way to keep me from dying of boredom on long Shabbatim (though it definitely started off that way), they also helped connect me to the wider secular world and did a better job of helping me explore vast existential questions than anything I read in the Torah during many years of Jewish schooling. I should be very clear that my family is not Hasidic or even close to that level of religiosity, but needless to say, when Hasid-turned-actor Luzer explains in One of Us how movies were his only way of understanding and empathizing with a world outside his own, I felt his words on a personal level. I felt a lot of this movie on a personal level.

I'm also pretty sure it's a dope-ass documentary either way. As with Jesus Camp, Ewing & Grady explore a religious dogma taken to its logical conclusion, in a way that is frightening, raw and probing. It's definitely not perfect. I was particularly annoyed by certain structuring decisions and repetitive, attention-breaking camera choices (this isn't a Bourne movie). It also does that thing most religious exposes do and avoids the entire question of actual religious beliefs in favor of a focus on more generalized societal customs.

Still, the directors chose the perfect, diverse group of characters in order to show a multiplicity of opinions that wouldn't seem possible to those not inside its singular, insular community. A few stagey scenes aside, there's also an intense attention to detail, resulting in multi-layered imagery that allows the story to come across as dark and cynical one moment, hopeful and redemptive the next. On the whole, One of Us is an extremely powerful film that uses extreme specificity to explain countless universal facets of human nature. It's one of Netflix's best original docs so far.