Movie review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Refuge Movie Poster Image
Complex film about family trauma has heavy themes.
  • NR
  • 2012
  • 84 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Refuge offers positive messages about the unity of family, the role of community in the absence of family, and the idea that good things can come from tragic situations.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are incredibly flawed and complex and struggle with abandonment issues, grief, or lack of boundaries or healthy discipline, and parents are absent. Older sister Amy is a stable and loving presence but discusses periods of promiscuity and former alcohol and drug use. New boyfriend Sam drinks excessively but aims to be a stable provider. Siblings face drug problems and traumatic injury. Some adult characters are well-intentioned or caring but only exist in a minor capacity.


A man punches another man in the face, leaving him with a black eye and scrapes. A man slams another man's head into a car window. A girl is shown with unexplained bruises; later they are shown to be self-inflicted. Some discussions include references to violent scenes, such as a man with a brain injury describing a dream in which people say "Kill him, kill him" and a conversation about a drunk-driving accident that result in a man's death after being thrown through a windshield.


Sexual situations and graphic discussions of sex. A guy and girl go home together after meeting at a bar. They kiss, she puts her hand down his pants, they take their shirts off, and they discuss whether she has a condom. A guy and girl decide to no longer have sex because they're roommates. A guy and girl are shown kissing, then in bed the next morning, presumably after intercourse. A man asks a woman if she had an orgasm during sex and jokes that he could be her gigolo.


Profanity ranges from "take a piss" or "s--t person" to "f--k," "slut," "bitch," "p---y," and "calm the f--k down."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several scenes involve adults drinking beers and sometimes shots casually or to excess, in bars or at home, and a teen girl smokes marijuana casually in multiple scenes, sometimes with a friend. Cigarette smoking and recreational use of prescription drugs, such as when a teen girl takes Adderall and says it's "for fun." Brief scene of a rave shows teenagers smoking joints.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Refuge is a dark, complex indie film about a woman left to raise her younger siblings after their parents abandon them. One of the siblings struggles with a brain injury and the other with self-harm. The film explores dark, heavy themes about grief, loss, abandonment, and depression. Scenes involve casual sex and graphic discussions of sexual behavior, recurrent drinking, teens who smoke weed and take Adderall recreationally, and some minor violence when a guy gets into a fight. It's a complex look at an offbeat family in crisis mode struggling to find their own version of happiness, and though it has some poignant moments and some interesting themes about recovery and loss and defining your own happiness, it's much too mature and graphic for kids.

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What's the story?

Amy (Krysten Ritter) is left to raise her two siblings, Nat (Logan Huffman) and Lucy (Madeleine Martin), after their parents left one day for vacation and never returned. With one sibling struggling with a brain injury and the other acting out to cope, Amy is heartened to meet Sam (Brian Geraghty), a drifter who seems interested in putting down roots. But with so much loss and grief among them and damaged trust, will they be able to create a new idea of family?

Is it any good?

REFUGE is a moving testament to the ability to heal from terrible grief and loss. It's beautifully shot, and there's a rough-hewn beauty to watching these characters pick up the pieces and try to trust again and form some semblance of family. Amid the promiscuity, casual drug use, and dysfunction are some deeper, valuable insights about the human condition: Broken people can help heal each other; families have a way of providing stability in spite of their dysfunction and erratic rhythms; and good can come from terrible circumstances. But because it explores these themes through self-destructive behavior, this is strictly a movie for very mature teens or adults who can focus on the beauty that lies beneath.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the drug use in this film. How do characters use drugs in this film, and what purpose do they serve? How do you think drug use changes each character's life?

  • What message does the film send about family and the good that can come from bad situations? In what way might these characters be better as they are than together with their parents?

  • In a way, every person in this film is dealing with a different injury. What do you think the film says about how we process loss differently? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

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