Writer-director-cinematographer-editor Nick Gaglia's debut feature paints a hellish picture of "rehabilitation" in a cult-like atmosphere of abuse, intimidation and humiliation.
Bronx teenager Anthony Serra's (George Gallagher) drug addiciton and explosive rages have left his divorced mother (Julia Moriarty) at the end of her rope. When her ex-husband, Nicholas (Nicholas Serra), hears about Dr. Hiller's (Albert Insinnia) rehab facility in nearby New Jersey, just across the George Washington Bridge, she checks Anthony in. What neither realizes is that it's more cult than therapeutic environment, and a scary cult at that: New residents are forced to sit in straight-backed chairs for hours, accompanied at all times by a senior resident – even to the shower or toilet – and forcibly restrained if they resist. They're forbidden to read or talk to each other and forced to participate to grueling group therapy sessions that emphasize humiliating memories; not sharing adequately keeps them at the most restrictive level of treatment. Subjected to sophisticated brainwashing techniques, long-term patients and program graduates become part of the cycle of abuse, harassing and bullying newer arrivals. Anthony's sister, Sophia (Kether Donohue), also begins dabbling in drugs and soon joins him, except that by then he's an advanced patient and she's a newcomer: Not only is she punished for trying to speak to Anthony, but he turns his back on her. Sophia eventually works up the courage to escape, and is released into the custody of her father and sympathetic grandmother (Minnie Krakowsky), who've realized the facility is not at all what they believed. But Anthony is trapped, both by Hiller's staff and their thinly-veiled threat and by his own belief – painstakingly drummed into him over years of "therapy" – that the program is the only thing that stands between him and relapse.
Gaglia himself, who studied film at City University of New York's modest Hunter College, spent two-and-a-half years in a subsequently discredited facility called KIDS of North Jersey, and his $30,000 indie feature passionate attempt to use film to warn about abuse of power on the fringes of the therapeutic community. Overall, the performances are surprisingly convincing, but the mockumentary elements – talking head interviews with "Richard Serra" and "Minnie Krakowsky" about their parts in Tony and Sophia's ordeals – feel out of place and the intrusive switching between B&W and color denotes nothing; it's just a gratuitous flourish that detracts from the raw story material. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh