Movie Review: Higher Ground, Vera Farmiga’s Amazingly Graceful Directorial Debut

Actress Vera Farmiga’s directing debut, the religious drama Higher Ground, is amazingly graceful. The movie centers on Corinne (played by Farmiga), who joins and, a decade later, breaks away from a fundamentalist religious order, but the tone isn’t irreverent, exactly. The movie is flushed with hope, wonder, heartbreak. In the memoir on which it’s based, This Dark World, Carolyn S. Briggs (who co-wrote the screenplay with Tim Metcalfe) rejects God but can’t stop longing for Him. And Farmiga frames the film version as a kind of love story, beginning with Corinne opening her eyes underwater, at the moment of her baptism, seeing men smiling down like heaven’s welcoming committee. She doesn’t ever want to come up for air.

In an editing coup, Farmiga cuts from her face underwater to the face of Corinne decades earlier, also underwater, a child holding her breath in a bathtub, escaping the fighting of her flirty mom (Donna Murphy) and angry, alcoholic dad (John Hawkes). Farmiga doesn’t appear again for more than half an hour, but the two girls playing the youthful Corinne are uncanny. The first, little McKenzie Turner, combines a sly intelligence, an impishness, with a seemingly irreconcilable craving to surrender to a higher authority, haltingly raising her hand when a choir teacher asks who’s willing to pledge his or her life to Christ. As a teenager, Corinne is played by Farmiga’s real-life sister, Taissa, who has similarly sky-blue eyes and a presence at once airy and alert. Read More...


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