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Wednesday, 11 September 2019

REVIEW: Unbelievable on Netflix is an important and impactful watch.

An exchange from a lawyer in Netflix's outstanding new drama series, Unbelievable really struck a chord with me. “Nobody ever accuses a robbery victim of lying,” he notes. “But when it comes to sexual assault?”

The series, based on an article on the same name begins in the aftermath of Marie's rape. Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) is a young woman who has had a difficult start in life. Her adolescence has seen her bounce from one foster carer to another but she's now living in her own apartment in a complex designed to help kids like her get a good start in life. She's working and seemingly happy.


The first episode opens with a dazed Marie struggling to relay details of her rape to police officers. She speaks of a masked intruder raping her, taking intimate pictures and gagging her. Marie is subjected to many of these police interviews and certain elements of Marie's story change. It's down to her trauma and not being able to process the horror properly. Slowly, even those close to Marie start to doubt her story. Has this girl who has always craved attention made up the whole thing? It puts the viewer in an awkward position. Dever's performance is masterful and those close around her drop away, the tiniest seed of doubt is placed in your mind.

Eventually, Marie is questioned again and is somewhat coerced into admitting she has falsified her statement by two male detectives. The detectives here aren't monstrous. The pair truly believe they're following procedure correctly and once they have Marie's signature admitting her initial statements were 'made up' they close the case file.  Marie's story doesn't there and we see her trying to rebuild her life.

The second episode sees the story take a tiny time jump and move from Marie’s Washington state hometown to Colorado where local cop Karen Duvall (Merrit Weaver) is called to an apartment where a young woman has reported a rape. She describes her masked attacker and him taking pictures. The contrast between Duvall and Marie's exchanges with police are immediately noticeable. She's warm, deeply affected by the girl's ordeal and determined to catch him. Weaver always brings humanity to her characters but here she's at her very best.  When Duvall meets detective Grace Rasmussen (the equally brilliant Toni Collette) the pair form a team to link the rapes and bring his reign of terror to an end.


Essentially Unbelievable is telling two equally interesting stories.  The intricate hunt for clues about the rapist is spiced together with Marie's story who is struggling and isolated from those closest to her. I spent the majority of the early episodes willing Duvall and Rasmussen to stumble upon Marie's case and lend the empathetic ear she's so in need for, but I won't spoil what happens with that.

Pairing the smart but inexperienced Duvall with Rasmussen. a seasoned veteran from a nearby community investigating a case where the attacker uses a similar MO. As the duo realize they have a serial rapist in their sights balances the story well with Marie's horror. Rasmussen and her team offer much-needed humour to proceedings and the interactions between the officers feel, like everyone in the series, like real people. This is what I most admired about the series. Nothing feels sensationalised. Creators Susannah Grant, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman tell their story in a methodical and measured way. They never forget they are telling a true story and the whole thing feels deeply respectful. Though Marie's story will you leave you exhausted it's an incredibly important story that I've seen on television before. Weaver and Colette have such great chemistry and as much as wanted the rapist to be caught I also didn't leave their world.

Unbelievable is often an uncomfortable watch, but it's equally rewarding. Netflix rightfully received huge praise for their other true-life mini-series When They See Us earlier this year and this is up there with that in terms of quality and impact. At eight episodes it doesn't suffer from the problems other more stretched-out Netflix dramas have been accused of. I loved the series and I wanted to make sure you were away of it incase the Netflix algorithm doesn't point you towards it.

All 8 episodes of Unbelievable drop on Netflix on Friday 13th September 

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