Newport Beach Film Festival Coverage 2014
U.S.A. | 2012 | Running Time: 84 min
by Cord Montgomery
REFUGE. Amy Behr (Krysten Ritter) becomes a mother out of unexpected circumstances. She tries to raise her two younger siblings who struggle with day-to-day life: her younger brother, Nat (Logan Huffman), writes to-do lists concerning mundane tasks, like attempting to converse with other people, after he has a brain tumor removed that mildly disables him . Amy’s teenage sister, Lucy (Madeleine Martin), has a hatred of high school and experiments with drugs and shoplifting as her grades slip. It is not until a handsome stranger living in his truck named Sam (Brian Geraghty) surfaces in their town does Amy’s familiar family structure become shaken. She instantly shares a connection with Sam and as they both begin to learn more about each other, Sam tries to become a father figure to Amy’s younger siblings, in the process trying to establish a sense of purpose after a personal tragedy was thrust upon him during a path of reflection and self-discovery that inevitably led him to Amy and her siblings.
Refuge is directed by Jessica Goldberg who also wrote the play the film is adapted from. Having never seen the play, I can’t confidently say that the play might be better than the film or perhaps it simply didn’t translate well to the silver screen—but the film adaptation meanders often. Characters seem incapable of knowing what they truly want or feel and because of this it often feels like a jumbled mess of extraneous scenes and dialogue.
The shame of it all is the film has an excellent cast and stellar performances. Logan Huffman who plays her disabled brother, authentically paints a portrait of a young man struggling to reconnect with other people and his subplot is often more interesting than the main focus of the story. Madeleine Martin also gives an understated performance as the party-going sister who battles against conformity. And while Krysten Ritter’s performance as Amy is often excellent, the sloppy script makes her jump unexpectedly into borderline lunacy, frequently and sporadically on screen—often being on the verge of a nervous breakdown and seemingly incapable of raising a family or even taking care of herself—and by the next scene she’ll seem painfully normal. Brian Geraghty as Sam gives the best performance and has a much more interesting character with clearer intentions throughout—but his decision to stick around feels forced and unrealistic, his tumultuous relationship with Amy and her siblings often flying off the rails at the drop of a hat.
Refuge is a jumbled mess of sporadic characterization that often makes the people we are supposed to care about feel unreliable, detracting from realism—something that is crucial in a subtle, small film like this to be effective. It is commonly blurred what the film is trying to say, if anything, and larger conflicts that arise as Amy and her younger siblings clash with accepting Sam as one of their own are quickly abandoned with jumpy cuts (and without real reason), repeatedly feeling like a random assortment of scenes and dialogue that don’ quite connect to each other. I was very surprised that a film based on a play would feel so cut-and-pasted and because of that, a narrative with abundant potential is buried underneath too many subplots in a very short 84-minute runtime.
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