This subtle, smart first feature by Northwest writer-director Ryan Graves is a penetrating look at a disintegrating marriage and the forces behind it. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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There must be easier ways to have an identity crisis than disrupting a marriage.

But in the domestic drama “Emily,” as in real life, marriage serves as a crucible for extreme tests of character and awareness. In this insightful and quietly unnerving first feature by Northwest filmmaker Ryan Graves, shot in Portland with local actors, an outwardly harmonious couple disintegrates when the husband reveals he hasn’t been honest with himself or his wife.

Nathan (Michael Draper) and Emily (Rachael Perrell Fosket) seem well-suited together. Their lives are guided by Biblical principles, and they host a Bible study group every week. They come home from their day jobs (he’s a copywriter, she runs a cafe with her sister) to make small talk over nice dinners.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Emily,’ with Rachael Perrell Fosket, Michael Draper. Written and directed by Ryan Graves, based on story by Graves and Kelly McCrillis. 87 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Grand Illusion, through Thursday.

But one day Nathan announces he’s no longer sure he believes in God, and has long-fantasized about abandoning everything to become a wine-guzzling, globe-trotting author. He also confesses he let Emily — who is rigid about values — assume from the beginning that they were on the same page.

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Graves presents this marital breakdown as the starting point of a daily slog through worsening communication and betrayals of trust. The film, largely shot in interiors with images of the principals tightly framed, is deliberately airless and claustrophobic, one of the ways in which “Emily” suggests that a somewhat spooky, compulsive destructiveness is subconsciously and implacably at work here.

In a startling, inspired moment that looks like something out of a Jean-Luc Godard film, Graves pivots his camera from a shot of Emily on the phone to a haunting exploration of the mournful space in her home. You feel hints of a strange energy in “Emily” that remind us we don’t always know why we do what we do in relationships. The hard part is holding on for the ride.