Saturday 19 October 2019

Pat Stacey: Unbelievable - a true crime drama in a league of its own

Unbelievable is a true crime drama in a league of its own
Unbelievable is a true crime drama in a league of its own

Pat Stacey

Toni Collette is the biggest star in Unbelievable, yet the fact she doesn’t appear until right at the end of episode two immediately signals that this eight-part mini-series – based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning article by investigative journalists T Christian Miller of ProRepublica and Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project – is no ordinary true crime drama.

On one level, it’s a gripping, brilliantly-made police procedural about the painstaking investigation by two real detectives, here called Grace Rasmussen (Collette) and Karen Duvall (The Walking Dead’s Merritt Wever), into a series of seemingly unconnected rapes in Washington and Colorado between 2008 and 2011 that were, in fact, the work of the same perpetrator.

It’s equally a sad and enraging look, fictionalised in terms of character names but otherwise faithful to the source material, at the brutal, broken system in which rape claims are frequently viewed with scepticism and victims face an uphill struggle simply to be believed, let alone get justice.

Perhaps they’re partly to blame for getting raped. Or wholly. Look at how they dress. Look at their background. Look at their sexual history.

Maybe, when you put two and two together and make five, they were “asking for it”.

Maybe it wasn’t even rape – maybe it was drunken, consensual sex they regretted the morning after and decided to cry rape to protect their reputation. Or maybe nothing happ-ened. Maybe they made the whole thing up to get some attention.

We don’t have to imagine this stuff. We read about it regularly. The first episode of Unbelievable, set in Washington in 2008, focuses entirely on Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), an emtionally damaged 18-year-old (we learn in passing her parents fed her dog food) who has been through “a million” foster homes and is now in a transitional halfway house.

She reports being tied up and raped in her bedroom, an event glimpsed in the briefest of flashbacks. Exhausted by having to repeat what happened over and over again for hours on end to different detectives, all of them male, she becomes confused and disorientated.

What seem to be inconsistencies and contradictions appear in her story. A former foster mother unhelpfully volunteers the information to the cops that Marie has a history of “acting out”.

The interviews become interrogations. The detectives start picking holes in her account, threatening her with prison if she’s lying.

Marie, panicked, retracts the rape claim, then tries to retract the retraction, which only makes things worse. When word gets round that Marie “lied” about the rape, the world turns on her.

After this, Unbelievable divides its time between 2008, as Marie, her life falling apart, is hauled before a judge on a charge of making a false police report; and 2011, when Duvall and Rasmussen, who operate out of different police stations, gradually begin to make connections between the individual rape cases they’re investigating and realise they’re both hunting the same man, who, though they don’t yet know it, also raped Marie.

I watched four episodes of Unbelievable. In retrospect, I wish I’d watched the whole lot in one sitting, instead of wasting a few hours on the first three episodes of French supernatural drama Marianne.

Victoire Du Bois plays Emma, a snarky, unpleasant horror novelist who decides to kill off her most successful character, a demon called Marianne.

The only problem is that Marianne doesn’t want to be killed off. You see, she’s a real medieval witch who’s been using Emma’s nightmares, which inspire her books, as a portal into the physical world.

Marianne is a tedious hotchpotch of hoary horror cliches begged, borrowed and stolen from The Exorcist, The Omen, Insidious and the collected works of Stephen King.

Throw a peanut at the screen and you’ll hit something you’ve seen before and seen done far better.

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