Blu-ray Review: HIGHER GROUND Grapples With Questions of Faith
Vera Farmiga typically plays characters who are emotionally wise (or at least savvier than the people around her). From her New Jersey mom rescuing a child from a couple of vicious sexual predators in Running Scared to even a less flattering role as an Eastern European prostitute working the streets of London in Breaking and Entering, not to put too fine a point on it but she comes across as one tough, smart cookie. And it's kind of refreshing to see that maybe that's a case of directors casting based on reality after watching the recent Blu-ray release of her directorial debut Higher Ground in which she also stars. There's a certainty in front of and behind the camera as the actress guides her character Corinne through years of faith that begins to waver as she starts asking questions about what she believes and why she believes.
The film is based on the memoir of Carolyn S. Briggs (who co-wrote the screenplay), and it follows Corinne from childhood and her tentative, almost impulsive embrace of her upstate New York Protestant church to her teens when a near disaster sees her run fully into a life of faith, to her 30's when dissatisfaction with her long marriage to her husband and with her life cause her to question what it's all supposed to mean. This could easily be festival and awards season bait if the screenplay didn't invest Corinne with warmth, intelligence and curiosity, and if the characters around her weren't basically sweet and decent. That's not to say there's not an element of loutishness and close-mindedness to the small group of gentle--I won't say "hippies"--hippie-like folk who make up the adult Corinne's congregation, but they act out of love and conviction.
The problem is that Corinne doesn't feel that conviction, and the tension at the core of the film is did she ever feel it? She's not so sure and Farmiga articulates similar doubts and anxiety in the making-of that accompanies the movie. Corinne is smart--much smarter than her guitar-strumming husband Ethan (Josh Leonard)--but it's to her credit that she tries not to hold that over him until the fractures in their marriage start. It's kind of unclear whether the disintegration of their marriage happens as a result of Corinne's dwindling faith or vice versa, but it's a steady, almost inevitable slide.
The structure of the movie might not be for everyone: not that it's non-linear or especially challenging, but it happens with its own easy rhythm as we touch on some moments in Corinne's life and see her gradual awakening. Like Farmiga, her movie exudes savvy and confidence and it's a lovely film and a lovelier-still debut.
Audio, Video, and Special Features
Not too much to elaborate on here in terms of the picture and audio quality--it looks and sounds fine for an indie release that wasn't really designed to tax your system. Where it excels is in its suite of special features which illuminate the production and give you a better sense of Farmiga and her intent with the film. If, upon seeing the movie you enjoyed it at all, I'd highly recommend taking the time to revisit it through the special features.
Higher Ground is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD now.