Review By Shaylynn Lynch
Refuge is the story of a one night stand turned long term enabling.
Amy is a lonely young woman whose sole existence is caring for her disabled brother and teenage sister. Amy meets Sam one night at a bar and brings him home. As soon as they locate a condom there is a knock at Amy’s bedroom door, Sam asks if she has roommates and Amy reluctantly explains that it is her younger brother Nat. Nat says he cant sleep and he needs Amy to come talk to him, thus Sam is introduced to the extremely dependent nature of Amy’s life.
Nat had a brain tumor removed and was left both mentally and physically disabled. He only has the mental capacity of an 8 or 9 year-old despite being in his 20s. Lucy the youngest of the three has a self-destructive streak and with very little structure from Amy is able to indulge in her drug and alcohol binges as often as she likes. Amy’s parents deserted them and Amy was forced to leave college to raise her siblings. Sam, being a lost soul recovering from the tragic death of his own brother, decides to move in and help out.
Amy and Sam begin what seems like a healthy and happy relationship playing house and making the best of their wayward circumstances but sadly this is short lived. Their awkward emotional intimacy reveals how juvenile Sam really is, and how incapable he is at providing any sort of security or structure to their lives.
About halfway through the film the title becomes very ironic. The house is tense and explosive at times after Sam’s arrival, nothing at all like a refuge or sanctuary.
The level of dysfunction and self-destruction is excruciating at times. The film becomes infuriating as multiple occasions arise for each character to progress or evolve in some way and yet they remain unchanged and disappointing. Amy’s potential and capacity to have done something amazing with her life is expressed repeatedly throughout the film which simply illuminates the tragedy of her situation. Instead of a family as they set out to become, they end up just a group of broken people who are entirely dependent on one another.
The general conclusion is that Amy learns she is incapable of leaving or changing her life, she sinks into a defeated acceptance and rides off into the sunset with Sam, and Nat, and Lucy.
There are redeemable features of the film, but none that successfully trump the overall sadness of the storyline. The performances are wonderful with a slight exception of Nat who seems almost like a caricature of a mentally handicapped person at times. Since his exact mental afflictions are not detailed it is difficult to decipher his specific disabilities.
The production design is impeccable. So much so that, without specific context, it would be difficult to separate this film from one made in the early 90’s. It has the look and feel of a new-age folksong right down to the gloomy weather and wardrobes.
Although the title and cover may suggest a warm feel good film, Refuge, at least for anyone that can see past the surface love story, will leave you with a sadness you will be unable to shake for days.
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