From HOTP thread:
Netflix's 'Unbelievable' is a harrowing true crime must-watch
By Kelly Lawler, USA Today
- Sep. 13, 2019
The thing about "Unbelievable" is that you have to believe it. It's all true.
Netflix's new miniseries
is called "Unbelievable" (streaming Friday, ★★★ out of four)
because it's about a time when our system failed, when law enforcement refused to believe a troubled 18-year-old woman who said a masked man broke into her home, tied her to her bed and raped her. Because of that skepticism, and the prejudice against believing women, that rapist was able to sexually assault other women for years, until two female detectives arrested him.
The story was illuminated in a 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica story, "An Unbelievable Story of Rape," and is brought to bleak, upsetting life in Netflix's series created by Susannah Grant ("Erin Brockovich") with a stellar cast including Kaitlyn Dever, Toni Collette and Merritt Wever. But the series wisely leaves any further Hollywood trappings at the door, and portrays a startling, angering, straightforward tragedy that could have been entirely avoided.
"Unbelievable" begins with Marie Adler (Dever), an 18-year-old former foster child in living in transitional housing in Washington state after a rocky childhood in the system. In 2008, Marie is raped by a masked intruder and seeks help from her former foster mothers and the police, who are willing to provide it, at first.
Quickly, the investigation changes from finding a rapist to proving that Marie, living on the edge of poverty with little to no support system, made the whole thing up for attention. The crime scene is too clean, you see, so there's no physical evidence of the crime. Marie isn't acting the way the police or her foster mothers expect her to, and she has a history of being a brat. So obviously, she's lying.
After a series of berating interviews and veiled threats, Marie recants her story and is eventually charged with falsely reporting a crime, which sets off a series of events that alienate her from her friends, leads her to lose her job and psychologically harms her more than the rape did.
Marie's story is interwoven, years later, with the perspectives of Detectives Karen Duvall (Wever) and Grace Rasmussen (Collette), exactly the kind of understanding and vigilant police officers Marie could have used. They are working on rape cases of their own in Colorado, with no leads, when a chance conversation tips off Karen that Grace's case might have the same perpetrator. The two women eventually discover that they are on the trail of a serial rapist. They devote their lives, and the considerable resources of their shared police departments, and the FBI, to finding him.
"Unbelievable" is really two different shows in one, and they sometimes compete for perspective. There's Marie's tragedy, a story of despair and injustice that just keeps getting worse, and there's a compelling police procedural with great actresses playing great detectives, with the same thrills and developments that an episode of "Law & Order" brings. The stories are intertwined, for tragic real-life reasons, but the "Unbelievable" writers often struggle to gracefully transition between them. Although the approach of starting with Marie's ordeal is harrowing and effective, the move to Karen and Grace's narrative is awkward at best.
But "Unbelievable" has such an unbelievable story at its center that the clunkiness grates less as the episodes go on. The series is a warning, a devastating example of the consequences of not believing women. But the writers successfully prevent it from becoming pedantic or hacky. This isn't an after-school special about rape. The blunt, unbecoming direction delivers the message without interference. Wever shines, bringing much to an understated performance. Dever, who broke out in this summer's teen comedy "Booksmart," shows that humor is not all she's capable of.
The series is likely to get slapped with a "#MeToo art" label, but it's reductive to think that the plague of sexual assault, and the systemic criminal justice failures that go along with it, started with Harvey Weinstein. The problems are deep, the solutions are few, and stories like this one are all too common.
"Unbelievable" is about a crime that wasn't taken seriously, but it's not at all hard to believe that it happened.