Filmmaker Shan Serafin displays guts and skill, if not originality, in his satanic psycho-horror film The Believer. A lot goes on in this unholy amalgamation (read: shameless rip-off) of classics like Rosemary’s Baby and Misery, but it fails to amount to much. The pretentious dialogue exchanges bog the proceedings down further. Were it not for its compelling lead and Serafin’s palpable, endearing conviction that he’s made a paradigm-changing masterpiece, there wouldn’t be much to recommend.
Lucas (Aidan Bristow), a struggling nuclear shielding physicist, believes that his wife, Violet (Sophie Kargman), has become deranged, if not possessed. He’s got his reasons, mind you. The chief one being that she violently terminated her pregnancy without so much as consulting him. Violet also does things like pierce her chest with broken shards of glass and chug bleach. But then again, according to his therapist, Dr. Benedict (Billy Zane), Lucas has trouble differentiating between reality and hallucinations. Is any of this real? Is Violet a conduit for the devil?
“Lucas…believes that his wife…has become deranged, if not possessed.”
“I don’t like how our political divide seems to bleed into our dinner table” is an example of the insufferable dialogue. “When you come at me with these allegories… I just want you to know that I’m out here, cringing at the disrespect that’s being shown to the institution of logic itself,” Lucas states, voicing my precise thoughts about the film. “You took logic out of the faith,” Violet says. “You took life out of our child,” he snaps back. I’d quote more, but literally, every line of dialogue is like this. The Believer is almost worth watching for its rapid-fire ludicrous back-and-forths alone.
Aidan Bristow, who uncannily resembles a younger Oscar Isaac, manages to deliver these lines with a modicum of conviction. He gets his moments to shine, particularly in a well-staged scene where Violet’s purported parents arrive at the most inopportune moment. Sophie Kargman fares worse, strumming the “blissfully mad” string with such vehemence, you’d wonder why or how Lucas ended up with her in the first place. Billy Zane doesn’t leave much of an impression as the ethically questionable shrink. (Fun fact: this is Zane’s second film titled The Believer. It was bound to happen in a career filled with hundreds of titles.)
The more effective moments in The Believer involve ambiguity, a sense of rising tension, and reality collapsing in on itself. Serafin reaches for the stars, loading his film with themes of the demons that lurk within us, one’s commitment to their partner, the failure of living up to one’s own expectations, and the difference between faith, spirituality, and belief. While admirable in its ambition, the end result just doesn’t quite gel. Cool poster, though.
"…Serafin displays guts and skill..."