Oscar-nominated actress Vera Farmiga makes her directorial debut with the drama Higher Ground, about a woman who becomes trapped by her circumstances - and by the fundamentalist sect to which she belongs. Also starring John Hawkes and Vera's younger sister Taissa Farmiga, Higher Ground is an interesting little movie. Unfortunately, it's not much more than that.
Both Farmiga sisters play Corinne, who becomes pregnant at a young age and, along with her husband, develops a strong devotion Jesus as time passes. They join a radical New Testament church that calls for hours of Bible study and obedience to her husband, but as her marriage unspools, she begins to question her beliefs.
As an atheist, I appreciate the story presented in Higher Ground. It's challenging for people to take a step back from their beliefs and view them from afar, especially if they've grown more devout over the years. What may have began as a pure and innocent relationship with God can turn into a misguided trust in corrupt principles, and people who have been immersed for so long have trouble seeing what they've become.
Higher Ground hits on these points without taking an atheistic stance; the movie is not about a complete loss in belief, but a loss in faith based on one person's experiences and current situation. In that regard, the movie does well, highlighted by a good performance by the elder Farmiga.
As a director, Farmiga gets to the emotional core of her story and portrays it well. She shows promise, but overall Higher Ground looks and feels like a small movie, one that relies on the screenplay by Carolyn S. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe and less on style or theatrical impact. Interesting at times, Higher Ground is consistently engaging but hardly groundbreaking. It is also consistently understated and, unfortunately, a movie that will be quickly forgotten.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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