Home Video Hovel: Refuge, by Sarah Brinks
The definition of family has become much more flexible in the last ten years. Families with same sex parents are becoming more and more common. Prime time television is full of modern and celebrated examples of the “new family.” Refuge tells the story of a family made up of three kids and a stranger. Krysten Ritter plays Amy, the oldest child, who after a year of college had to come home and look after her younger, disabled brother and teenage sister after their parents take off. She brings a man named Sam, played by Brain Geraghty, home after meeting him at the bar. He leaves before she is up the next day and hits the open road. After realizing that living out of his truck isn’t a real plan he returns to Amy’s and offers to pay rent for a place to stay for a while. Amy and Sam become an item and Sam gets to know the kids and the life that Amy lives. They eventually form an nontraditional family unit that has to weather tough times.
Refuge really explores the question of sacrifice and self-denial. Amy has to give up her entire future to take care of her brother who had a brain tumor removed and a teenage sister who is a bit of a trouble maker. Sam is good for her because he makes her feel wanted and safe but he never quite feels permanent, until he proposes. Then he feels like another trap that would keep her from achieving her dreams. Amy has to figure out if what life has given her will ever be enough or if she needs to go elsewhere to find it.
Refuge is a play written, directed, and adapted for the screen by Jessica Goldberg. Fortunately, Refuge avoids feeling like a play adapted for the screen but it does have a distinctly “film-festival feel” to it. It is hard to describe exactly what I mean by “film-festival feel” but much like good karaoke, you know it when you see it. It is all very softly lit and not shot in a particularly interesting way. That isn’t to say that is a bad movie or not capably made. It is a good film that has a lot to say. It is mostly shot inside Amy’s house but through the medium of film they are able to go elsewhere and use other locations like Lucy’s high-school and the local grocery store to build out the other characters. I do really like the subtly of Goldberg’s writing. She never hits you over the top of the head with any of the deeper themes the film explores, but instead lets the characters actions depict them. As a first time director I applaud her ability to trust her script and actors to do the heavy lifting and her audience to follow along.
This is the best acting I have ever seen by Ritter, who has done some good work already. Far from her Don’t Trust the B character, Amy is patient, complex, and vulnerable. Geraghty, who has never failed to impress, continues to deliver an impressive performance. Sam is lost, good-hearted, and scared of the future. Luke Huffman who plays Nat, the brother with the brain tumor, has arguably the biggest acting challenge. He manages not to over play his disability but really harness the frustration and anger that would come with it. He also shows the loving and loyal side of a brother who knows what his sister has had to give up for their family. There are a variety of smaller characters in the film who help round out the nameless small town where the film takes place and add the over-all story.
Refuge is a small film, but it is a complicated film with a big heart. It makes you wonder what you would do if you were forced to make the same sacrifices as Amy. If you did, would be brave enough to let someone else in who could hurt you or your family. Refuge takes its time to tell its story which gives it an authentic feel and leaves you feeling satisfied.