(Higher Ground opened in Seattle on Friday, 9/9 and is playing at the Landmark Guild 45th theatre)
I am not religious. Like, even a little bit. So I wasn't sure if I'd dig Vera Farmiga's directing debut, Higher Ground, since it's about a very religious woman. But the thing that grabbed me was the tidbit about said woman having second thoughts. That, and I'll watch Vera Farmiga do just about anything because I think she's amazeballs. Fortunately, this film didn't change that.
Farmiga pulls double duty on and off camera by playing the main character, Corrine. Since the film starts when Corrine's character is young, and then moves quickly into her teenage years, she also geniusly cast her sister (Taissa Farmiga) as her younger self — and yes, she definitely has the acting chops to pull it off. That's one talented family.
Anyway! Corrine's home life is unsatisfying. So she turns to God to lift her up, and then when her boyfriend gets her preggers, she marries him and they both join this sort of commune-esque religious community and revel in the glory of the Lord together. Or something. But somewhere between the male-dominated rules and bitchy critique from the head wifey, she starts to lose her way, questioning whether to abandon her beliefs—or not.
The kicker is an unforeseen tragedy that happens to her best friend, Annika (played with so much verve by Dagmara Dominczyk that I wanted her to be my real-life Bestie), a vibrant, funny, and unabashedly sexy member of the church that makes no apologies for who she is, and loves her husband's penis as much as she loves God. No amount of praying can safe Annika from her fate, and Corrine's resolve starts to crumble even more.
…and before you can say, “hey, that’s some pretty cliché indie drama plot happenings right there.” Yes, I’ll admit. It is. But something about this movie feels so real, so honest, that it totally and completely works. And it really doesn’t feel cliché at all.
What follows is a heart-wrenching exploration of a lost woman trying to find her place in the world, and her family's struggles with trying to give her the freedom to do just that. Every performance in the film is worthy of applause, and Joshua Leonard as Vera's husband Ethan matches the strength she brings to the screen. The sets and cinematography add to the authentic atmosphere, and the subject matter and script are definitely designed to make you think.
I'm still mulling it over, flipping things in my mind, and trying to make sense of it all. Higher Ground is one of those quiet, thoughtful Indies that comes along every once in awhile–leaving an impression. Recommended for those craving something that will, you know, actually give them some substance. Bravo, Vera. You done good.