DVD Review - Higher Ground

Vera Farmiga in "Higher Ground"
It's almost fitting that this DVD is released in January 2012 because it comes almost a year from its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. It's fitting because I think Higher Ground spoke to a trend or at least a pattern at 2011's Sundance, movies about small groups of people linked to a church whose members are very devout, if not fundamentalist or in a cult.

It followed Red State and preceded Martha Marcy May Marlene in terms of theatrical release. All three were glimpses into threee insular worlds, and the degree to which these worlds are insular dictates how dangerous they are. Red State represents the most insular, so its world is the most dangerous. Martha Marcy May Marlene was less insular and therefore less dangerous, probably best described as simply highly risky but certainly scary.

Higher Ground is the least insular and the least dangerous. I would even argue that it isn't dangerous at all. That doesn't mean there aren't stakes. Whereas Red State is about a character with a rigid, unshakeable identity, Martha Marcy May Marlene was about a character with a more fluid sense of self. This movie though lies somewhere in between.

Vera Farmiga (The Departed and Up in the Air) stars as Corinne Miller, a wife and mother in a dedicated Midwest church. She lives a very conservative life. When we first see her, she's getting baptized. Off to her side is her husband, Ethan, played by Joshua Leonard, and her children. She's a woman clearly coming into religion late in her life. Yet, she's enthusiastic and eager to dive into it. She's attentive to her kids. She's chaste. She doesn't do drugs. She studies the Bible. She does everything right but there's something missing.

Bit by bit, she learns that she's lacking. Through her sister Wendy, played by Nina Arianda, her best friend Annika, played by Dagmara Dominczyk, and even her Irish mailman Liam, played by Sean Mahon, Corinne learns that she has an empty feeling inside. Supposedly, God and his son Jesus Christ are supposed to fill that emptiness, but Corinne can't connect with God. She tries to connect but struggles. This causes her to become distant from her husband and the church.

It's not much in plot. It doesn't have the blood and the bullets of Red State. It doesn't have the teasing or the terror of Martha Marcy May Marlene. What this movie does have is a touching adaptation of Carolyn S. Briggs' This Dark World that unfolds in scene after scene, wonderfully acted and wonderfully guided.

Farmiga not only stars but also debuts as a director. She builds each moment, leading them into a heartbreaking and revelatory monologue that is delivered beautifully. She also infuses each moment from start to finish with such humor and heart. Each of these moments draws you into them, gravitates you. All of it works superbly with a couple of really sublime scenes that really shows the distance and the disconnect that Corinne feels. Yet, she never loses faith.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.


Popular Posts