Higher Ground | Film review
Vera Farmiga directs and stars in a probing crisis-of-faith drama.
Now here’s a minor miracle: an American movie that explores religious faith—what sustains it and what compromises it, how it develops and how it wavers—with neither secular condescension nor evangelical agenda. For her first stint behind the camera, Vera Farmiga hands herself the plum part of Corinne, a woman raising her family among born-again Christians. Their New Age society is warmly welcoming, but it’s also rigidly, even oppressively, structured, and Corinne soon finds her faith in the community—and, by extension, the gospel itself—faltering. It doesn’t help that she’s married to a man (Joshua Leonard, of Humpday and The Blair Witch Project) who’s so consumed by the holy imperative that he’s lost the ability to connect on any other level.
Based on a lightly fictionalized memoir by Carolyn Briggs, Higher Ground takes us back to Corinne’s childhood, and then on to her years as a teenage mother, pinpointing little moments in her development as both a woman and a believer. The sprawling ensemble cast is a stellar, mixed congregation of indie pros and expressive unknowns. The film belongs to Farmiga, though, whose modest directorial missteps are eclipsed by a transcendent lead performance. Her anger—at a husband who doesn’t understand her, at a flock that stifles her, and at a God who takes everything and then falls damningly silent—comes on like a cleansing baptism of fire. Praise be to the actor who can sell a crisis of faith as its own kind of spiritual awakening.