“Its story and subjects are so enthralling.”
by Rob Rector
I recall first reading about KIdnapped for Christ when going over the list of the Slamdance 2014 winners (it took home the Audience Award). The film seemed right up my alley, as drifting in my Netflix queue’s wake are films such as Jesus Camp, God Loves Uganda, Deliver Us from Evil, Because the Bible Tells Me So, and Jonestown. I am fascinated with how religion and religious leaders can lead people so far astray from rationality, causing them to commit unspeakable acts in their twisted interpretations of their texts.
Kidnapped sort of vanished from the radar for me, as it had no official release date, and it was not again until the film’s director Kate S. Long and one of its subjects participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). Reading through their harrowing account of what students endured at the Escuela Caribe, a Christian youth “rehab center” located in the Dominican Republic, I was once again drawn to watching the documentary in its entirety.
It’s a strong first feature from Long, but mostly in part because of the film’s subject and story, not necessarily because of Long herself, who makes a few self-indulgent missteps that can befall many a new director.
The leaders of this purported camp don’t seem to be as interested in the Bible as they do enforcing a “spare-the-rod”-style of militaristic adherence. Students are sent, against their will, to this relatively modest hideaway for various reasons — drugs, insubordinance, being gay. They are then monitored by camp “leaders” (who seem merely months older than the kids themselves) who dole out demerits with opportunistic glee.
To Logan’s credit, she began the project as a film student. And there lies the first fault of the film. She confesses in voiceover that she was an evangelical Christian when she out to make the film, but after realizing the horrors within found that there was more than just a puff piece on this rehab center she perhaps originally intended.
At first, this seems like an intriguing turn of events, but when you think about it, shouldn’t that be the role of an objective filmmaker, anyway? She also places herself in the center of the action, which is the equivalent to starting a term paper with a question. Your role should be to answer the question, not pose it.
The three main students who make up the focus of this film are the main draw, and Logan thankfully lets the majority of the film focus on their tales: David a 17-year-old honors student (with a 4.3 GPA) who was taken one night during his senior year after coming out to his parents; Tai, who admits to living fast at a young age, which most likely was a result of the fact that she was sexually assaulted by her mom’s boyfriend who then moved in; and Beth, whose main issue seemed to be suffering anxiety, which is helped not a bit by being barked at by her mentors.
Logan does have pretty amazing access at first, but when the program’s administration see that she is rolling during some of the more questionable “therapeutic” practices, it becomes increasingly limited. The film reunites with the students years after they leave, and concludes with statistics on other such programs around the globe.
It’s all compelling despite Logan’s hovering around the edges of the proceedings. These indulgences may be afforded more well-known documentarians like Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock (who made himself the lab-rat of his first feature). But from a rookie, it seems both distracting and, at times, vain.
The result still rises above the filmmaking missteps because its story and subjects are so enthralling. Logan obviously knows when she has a great story to tell, but next time she should let someone else tell it and merely sit back and let her camera roll.