The new Netflix series Unbelievable follows the real-life story of a young woman whose account of being raped — sometimes fuzzy, sometimes inconsistent from retelling to retelling — comes under such intense scrutiny from cops and even her own family that she is eventually accused of filing a false report.
Booksmart breakout Kaitlyn Dever plays the young woman Marie whose case is mired in controversy. The real-life events it depicts, which commenced in 2008 and stretched into 2012.
The story begins with a girl who gets raped by a masked man in her apartment who ties her up with her own shoelaces and takes her pictures. She files a police complaint and the case gets handed to a couple of middle-aged male detectives. Dever’s character, Marie, appears detached when police first interview her at her apartment in the suburbs of Seattle. To the responding officer’s first question — what happened — she replies flatly and without elaboration: “I was raped”.
As she takes them through the harrowing events that occurred there during the early-morning hours, her voice remains small and monotonous with minimal eye contact.
Flashes of her experience — a masked face in the gray, pre-dawn light; the sudden gleam of a knife’s edge; the sound of a bag being unzipped over heavy breaths; blinds clacking against each other by the sliding door — stand in at times of her narration. She isn’t sure how long the attacker was there or really describe what he looked like.
Three years later, a female detective gets summoned to a crime scene. Another young woman gets raped. Detective Karen Duvall’s character is very patient, empathetic, and respectful in her interaction with the victim.
She takes permission before asking questions, explains medical procedures calmly and with great care, and most importantly, she believes what she was being told. Karen’s investigation leads her to believe that the perpetrator is, in fact, a serial offender. She finds patterns in his behavior that suggested that he had done this in the past.
Improbably, the story ends on a hopeful, redemptive note, as Rasmussen and Duvall not only nab the serial rapist, they link him, nearly three years later, to Marie’s assault. In a final grace note again drawn from the true story, Marie — having garnered a personal apology and a $150,000 settlement from the Lynwood Police Department — call Duvall, from a beach to express her gratitude.
As for the Washington detectives who so dramatically bungled Marie’s case (or her various foster parents and friends who also questioned her story), Unbelievable makes no effort to vilify them. But the creators do hope the show shines a light on how sexual assault cases are still poorly handled, and the trauma still poorly understood.
The show was released on Netflix on 13th September.