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April 16, 2024

Unbelievable is not for the faint of heart

By BINYAMIN NOVETSKY | September 26, 2019

gordon correll/CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s hard to write a review about a show as well-made and powerful as Unbelievable while simultaneously not recommending it. There is no question that Unbelievable is about as intense and emotionally draining as any show I’ve ever seen. It had me fully hooked every second and fully invested in the outcome of all of the characters involved. It also hurt to watch more than anything I’ve ever experienced before in my life.

One of the main words Netflix has used to market this show is “important,” but that understatement rings true right from about a minute or so into the actual show. Marie Adler, played by the brilliant Kaitlyn Dever (if you’ve seen Booksmart, then you don’t need me to tell you just how talented she is), has been sexually assaulted. 

The first thing you are provided a glimpse into is her interview with the first cop on the scene. He is fairly kind, albeit a bit heavy-handed in his techniques. But at the end of the day, you can’t comparatively leave those first few minutes with a bitter taste in your mouth solely because of him. 

That’s because as Marie recalls her rape, you are exposed to graphic scenes of the actual attacker threatening her, and, not to mention, the actual happening of the rape, where the rapist delivers the most devastating line of all: “It wasn’t as good as I thought it’d be.”

It’s a pretty rough start, and it stays about as bad as that for the entirety of the first episode. Frankly it was too much for me to handle. I could barely even finish the first episode. Again, that’s not to say the show is bad at all — in terms of quality it’s nothing short of excellent. All the characters, from the policemen who try so hard to find the truth that they force Marie to lie and recant her story, to the foster mother who calls the police to let them know of Marie’s promiscuous past and the chance that maybe, just maybe, she isn’t telling the full truth, are played phenomenally. 

Nobody holds a candle to Kaitlyn Dever though. Seeing her freeze when she’s asked to give a written statement after giving a full oral statement for the fourth time (seriously, can you blame me for finding this too much to bear?) is as perfectly portrayed as it is horrifying that there was, not to mention, never an opportunity to even process the messed-up fact that the police themselves were the ones attempting to treat a victim of rape.

There is so much more to talk about in context of this show, but nothing really lives up to the utter horror of the first episode’s repeatedly explicit scenes of Marie’s rape and the ungrounded interrogations that question her innocence for no reason other than a general suspicion that she’s lying because of anecdotal evidence. 

Again, for me, it was just too difficult. A show like this embodies the reason for trigger warnings. The show does have one, actually, at the beginning of the very first episode, and rightly so.

The truth is, I just can’t justify recommending this show to anyone. I believe wholeheartedly that the world is a better place when we tell these stories, and it’s likely a right choice in providing a zoomed-out perspective to tell this particular story in as painful and as realistic of a way as possible. But for me, and for what I feel would be a lot of people, the pain is too much to bear, even from the other side of my laptop screen. 

I’m not proud of how I feel about this show, but I’m not ashamed, either. Some stories need to be told, and a story as important as this one may deserve to be heard by everybody, but this show is certainly not for everybody. It’s not for me. It might be for you, if you have the heart to go through with it, and if you feel that way then by all means please watch it. But I’m not going to pretend that I could handle it.

This is not an accessible story — it’s a horrific one, one that brought me to tears and one that I had no interest in returning to every time I had to pause it. 

I respect everything about Unbelievable, but believe me when I tell you that it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

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