The Believer


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Believer 2021
"Serafin doesn't want for ideas, even if they were once someone else's"

Fragmented narratives with an unreliable narrator at their heart can make for an interesting puzzle box for viewers but in the case of Shan Serafin's latest, it results in a scattered set-up making it hard to know even where to begin piecing things together let alone bring things together satisfactorily at the end.

But let's start with the basics, which are nice and tight for a low budget - with most of the action taking place within the walls of the home owned by Lucas (Aidan Bristow) and Violet (Sophie Kargman), a young married couple whose relationship is already on the rocks when we meet them. "I don't like all this back and forth," one of them says as they exchange verbal blows over dinner - a sentiment with which the viewer is likely to sympathise as the conversation is not only off-kilter but also so removed from any sort of 'normal' discourse that it makes it hard to follow.

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Unfortunately, that pretty much sets the tone for all that follows. We see Lucas  on visits to a psychiatrist (Billy Zane), trying to work through what appears to be a deterioration in his health that is matched by what seems to be an increasing animosity towards Violet. This is all a result of what is initially referred to as "the thing" that she did a while back, which Serafin soon reveals.  Violet, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly interested in matters of the occult and seems to be engaging in self-harm, although the film is so skewed towards Lucas' perspective that it is hard to get a handle on her beyond what he sees. Those viewers interested in the core ideas here, might want to take a look at Romola Garai's Amulet, which came at some of them, rather more successfully, from a feminine perspective last year.

Serafin doesn't want for ideas, even if they were once someone else's, there's a pinch of Misery in here, a hint of Rosemary's Baby and even a distant echo of Night Of The Eagle - but he struggles to find a way to make them cohere, preferring to ladle in jump scares rather than develop his underlying ideas about relationship paranoia. The actors do their best with the material, but more generally, the film also suffers in its sound work, with the dialogue echoey and muffled, which only adds to the general confusion. The film's best scenes involve an unexpected visit from Violet's parents (Susan Wilder and Lindsey Ginter, both strong), and succeed because the writer/director finally relaxes for long enough to allow a decent dialogue exchange, the strangeness of the encounter recalling the enjoyable oddness of Darren Aronofsky's Mother!. Serafin needs to remember, where demons are concerned, the devil is most certainly in the detail.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2021
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A man struggles to hold his health and sanity together as his relationship with his wife deteriorates.


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