Eli Daughdrill’s somber drama Faith is so assured and atmospheric it’s hard to believe it’s the writer/director’s feature-length debut. He coaxes a powerhouse central turn from Brian Geraghty in a purposefully languid, deeply melancholic treatise on, yes, faith, but also familial love and death. A jolly cinematic frolic through Midwestern meadows this is not. Neither is it a scathing indictment of the Bible Belt. Daughdrill asks many questions and lets them linger in the air without providing any concrete answers… isn’t that what faith is all about?
Chris (Geraghty) is a devout Evangelical Christian. He goes to church, prays, sermonizes, and plays the violin. Then something deeply tragic happens: his son commits suicide. Chris’s grief-stricken wife Carol (Nora-Jane Noone) escapes to her parents’ place. His dad Edgar (Thomas Francis Murphy) comes to support him, the only way he knows how. “Hold on to the Lord,” he tells Chris, “that’s what’s gonna keep you going.” Yet Chris becomes less and less sure of his own beliefs. Ridden with guilt and doubt, he tells Pastor Vann (Iddo Goldberg), “There were a lot of times in my life that would’ve been easier if he were dead,” referring to his child, and he begins to unravel.
The more Edgar and Pastor Vann attempt to “help” Chris, the more alienated he feels. They even stage an intervention of sorts. “Work the farm. Play that violin in church. You’ll find Him,” the pastor suggests, not realizing that perhaps Chris has stopped looking. I’ll leave you to discover whether Chris achieves any sort of redemption at the end.
“…he goes to church, prays, sermonizes, and plays the violin. Then something deeply tragic happens…”
Fair warning: Faith is a grim, slow-paced film, with nary a note of humor. That said, it needs to be reiterated that Daughdrill’s command of tone and pacing – somnambulant as it may be – resembles that of a much more seasoned filmmaker. It’s also much more of an elegy than Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy, what with all the poetic shots of a forlorn America, complemented by Andi Kristin’s marvelous score. Daughdrill has an ear for memorable dialogue, which helps sustain momentum. “Does it make you feel better having me around?” Carol asks Chris, marking the movie’s most searing moment. “Is it because it makes you feel less guilty? Or because you love me?”
Geraghty is mesmerizing, anchoring the film with an introspective performance that conveys a lifetime of regret with a single gaze. He’s a desperate man left suspended in a vacuum, questioning his former beliefs and tendencies, wondering where he’s stepped wrong and what he can do to rectify it. None of this is delivered via inspirational speeches or weighty exposition, mind you – the actor simply bares his soul; all is revealed wordlessly. Thomas Francis Murphy provides strong support as the leathery stalwart cemented in his beliefs, while Nora-Jane Noone is almost angelic, or at least that’s how we see her through Chris’s eyes.
Faith asks what happens when faith fails to provide guidance. I, for one, certainly have faith that Daughdrill has a long, exciting career ahead of him.
"…a grim, slow-paced film, with nary a note of humor"