Higher Ground (Blu-ray)
In Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut, she takes us on a journey of one woman’s personal test of spirituality and belief in HIGHER GROUND. We meet Corrine in three major life stages and witness her various forms of faith. From a young girl at Vacation Bible School becoming saved, to a pregnant and married teen rediscovering the Bible alongside her husband, to a grown woman (Farmiga) immersed in her quest to learn more about the teachings of the Bible and spirituality while her faith is tested; I will warn that this movie is not for everyone. Being a believer in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible I was very guarded and defensive throughout most of the film, until I realized that this is not pro- or anti-religion. It is just one person’s faith story, based on the memoir ‘This Dark World’.
Having grown up in a Christian home there were many pieces of this film that I could relate to and heard hymns that to this very day strike a chord in me. But there were also pieces of this woman’s walk that made me sad and ache for the confusion she was experiencing. Hats off to Farmiga for having the guts to tackle this film and for the work she did in her primary directing experience. Smartly told over a three decade span starting in the 50s and culminating in the early to mid 80s we see a wide array of characters, set design and costuming that helps the story unfold.
This film was perfectly cast and each extra and supporting character did a first-rate job setting the tone for each scene, the exception being teenage Wendy. Using a local teen to play Corrine’s sister might not have been the best choice as I was distracted by her poor acting every time she was on screen. However, teen Corrine, played by newcomer Taissa Farmiga (yes, Vera Farmiga’s younger sister) provides us with a decent performance in her breakout role. Taking on the role of a quiet bookworm seemed like the perfect acting tool for this wide-eyed innocent looking teen; but it did not feel like much of a reach. Seeing the young girl as a mother did not feel organic and the leap from Taissa to Vera as Corrine felt like a big leap in time and maturity even though not a great amount of time had passed. I truly enjoyed Vera’s performance and the emotion she put into her character’s struggle. With an earnest yearning to know more about the teachings of the Bible to being jaded, lost, confused, and empty, she nailed each moment.
Corrine’s faith-rich husband, Ethan (expertly done by Joshua Leonard) was one of my favorite characters to watch. From the opening scene to the final on-screen moment with his wife, I really enjoyed what he brought to the story. Dagmara Dominczyk (COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO) as Corrine’s closest friend and confidant, Annika, was a breath of fresh air and allowed another perspective of faith to be introduced to the story.
I’m not sure why I have mixed feelings about recommending HIGHER GROUND. Is it due to the fact that this piece is not particularly edifying or uplifting? Is it because I fear the reaction a non-believer might have? Or is it because while it touches on a topic that is close to my heart, the story did not need to be told and it is not that compelling of a film?
Video (1.85:1): Great picture and color; typical for what you expect with a Blu-ray.
Audio (HD DTS Master Audio 5.1): Nice audio for the hymns, prayers, and dialogue.
Audio Commentary: Full of personal anecdotes and technical discussions about particular scenes Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard and Producer Renn Hawkley are all participants in this standard commentary.
The Substance of Things Hoped For: Making HIGHER GROUND (18:52): A standard making of featurette, we see Vera Farmiga as an actor and director, how the film came to be, all of the family members and friends participating in this film and other inside looks of the filmmaking process.
Production Diary (2:36): This was a pointless featurette about a deleted scene and should not have been included.
Outtakes (0:44): A gag reel with two scenes. The ‘Meeting of the Men’ scene made me laugh out loud.
Deleted Scenes (6:54): Six appropriately deleted scenes.
Extended and Alternate Scenes (5:31): Two scenes that were edited appropriately for the film.