Anyone who has been in more than a couple of relationships has had it happen. The person who they thought they knew so well changes to the point you feel like you don’t know them at all. The Believer, the new film from writer/director Shan Serafin (The Forest, Misfire) takes this idea to an extreme.
Lucas (Aidan Bristow, Strawberry Flavored Plastic) and Violet (Sophie Kargman, Hard Surfaces) are a married couple whom we first meet over dinner. They’re fighting over whether or not they’re constantly fighting ever since “The Thing”. That’s an apparently unspeakable event that has created a rift in their relationship.
That’s hardly the only problem Lucas has though, he’s unemployed and jobs for nuclear physicists are apparently quite scarce. He also has a broken foot and is seeing a rather unorthodox psychiatrist, Dr. Benedict (Billy Zane, Ghosts of War, The Phantom) who may be doing him more harm than good.
For her part, Violet has become interested in, or maybe obsessed by, the occult. That gets really creepy when her parents Gus (Lindsey Ginter, The Evil Gene, Pearl Harbor) and Charlotte (Susan Wilder) come to visit. Why? Because Violet says they’re dead.
It took me a bit of effort to get through the first part of The Believer. Much of the dialogue is quite stilted and delivered in a deliberate monotone that got on my nerves. It just screams pretentious art film and the little bit of strangeness, (whispering voices, a child’s lullaby in an empty house), don’t do much to offset that feeling.
Around the half-hour mark, we learn is just what brought them to this point. I normally wouldn’t give it away, but the film’s own press releases and IMDB entry did that months ago. It’s also pretty easy to guess well before we’re told. Violet got an abortion without consulting Lucas. Something that would destroy, not just strain, most relationships. Thankfully, The Believer doesn’t turn into a pro-choice/forced birth debate and treats this as a personal matter between the two characters.
Things do start to pick up at that point as we start to find out more details about the couple’s situation. Or, at least, we think we do. Lucas tells Dr. Benedict that he’s doubting his grip on reality. Can we trust the memories of a self-professed unreliable narrator?
And that is what The Believer comes down to, a question of what is, or what we believe is, real. Is there a supernatural presence in the house? Is one of them possessed? Are one or both of them insane? Who, if anyone, should we believe or trust?
By the last half hour, The Believer has become a rather creepy mindfuck of a film. There are elements of everything from Misery to Rosemary’s Baby in play. One-shot even had me thinking of Audition, though not in terms of gore, this is a fairly bloodless film.
Serafin is a novelist and playwright as well as a filmmaker, and I have to wonder if The Believer wouldn’t have been better off as a book. With its lack of overt, visual horror and reliance on dialogue and mood, it seems well suited for that medium. The opening act certainly would work a lot better as words on a page.
As a film, The Believer is worth the effort to get through the opening and deal with its oddities. It’s weird enough to be interesting and builds to a distinctly warped ending.
The Believer is available to stream via Freestyle Digital Media.