Telling a true story through film is never easy, but telling the story of a tragic series of crimes can prove even more difficult.
Enter Netflix’s newest limited series, Unbelievable. The series begins with the harrowing story of Marie Adler, an 18-year-old who was raped at knifepoint in her apartment in the middle of the night.
In her reporting to the police, she was made to feel as if she was potentially making the attack up, police pointing out inconsistencies in her story in the wake of her trauma.
She recanted her statement, falsely confessing that she’d made the whole thing up, and was subsequently charged with false reporting.
Marie’s story isn’t fiction, however.
The limited series is based on the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning article ‘An Unbelievable Story of Rape’, published on ProPublica. It went on to inspire a series of podcasts on the intricacies of investigating rape, and a novel as well.
The eight-part series goes on to unveil that several more women were raped in the same way as Marie (played by Kaitlyn Dever) in different areas of Colorado, prompting a high-stakes investigation by Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) and Detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) to find the man responsible. They don’t know Marie exists, though, with her case closed by Detective Parker (Eric Lange) after Marie withdrew her story.
Unbelievable has been praised for it’s authentic portrayal of the victims, the reality of the difficulty of investigating rape and sexual assault, and it’s sheer vulnerability from it’s harrowing beginnings until its conclusion.
Ken Armstrong, one of the reporters who first told Marie’s story, posted an in-depth Twitter thread praising the raw way that the showrunner of Unbelivable, Susannah Grant, told the story, staying true to the reality of Marie and the other victims.
He also discussed how Marie herself had watched the show, and her reaction.
“Two weeks ago I got a call, from Marie. She told me she had just watched the series. Watching it was hard, she said. ‘I did cry quite a bit,’ she said. But she had decided she wanted to and was glad that she did. She called the show “excellent’,” Armstrong wrote.
17/ Two weeks ago I got a call, from Marie. She told me she had just watched the series. Watching it was hard, she said. “I did cry quite a bit,” she said. But she had decided she wanted to and was glad that she did. She called the show “excellent.”— Ken Armstrong (@bykenarmstrong) September 16, 2019
The crux of Unbelivable is that it’s unashamedly truthful in its portrayal. From the examination scenes in the hospital to the mental implications of the attacks on the victims, there is no hesitation in showing the reality of rape for all involved, from law enforcement to victims.
It’s admittedly a difficult watch, as is anything as raw and unfiltered as this. None the less your attention is captivated from the first meeting of Marie, sobbing and afraid in her apartment. The uncomfortableness translates into a sympathy that makes it impossible to turn away.
Unbelievable is streaming now on Netflix.