Directed by Sasha Joseph Neulinger.
Starring Sasha Joseph Neulinger.
Digging through the vast collection of his father’s home videos, a young man reconstructs the unthinkable story of his boyhood and exposes vile abuse passed through generations.
Is there a more noble use of filmmaking, especially the documentary form, than to lay one’s own suffering bare in the quest for not only personal catharsis, but also greater collective understanding? Rewind finds director Sasha Joseph Neulinger courageously poring over his own past of sexual abuse in a manner so matter-of-fact it’s sure to leave audiences watching through splayed fingers.
Neulinger’s formative years were exhaustively documented by his father through his prized video camera, yet as the family would discover years later, this footage also housed a nauseating secret history of abuse, which eventually led to a series of increasingly disturbing revelations, arrests and a hard-fought court battle. 20 years later, Neulinger trawls back through the footage and the events in the hope of finding something approximating closure.
If that might sound like the primer for a contrived true crime gimmick-doc, know that any and all pretense to that end is jettisoned extremely quickly by virtue of the subject matter alone. The irony of Sasha’s father living behind a camera lens for much of his son’s young life only to miss what was happening directly in front of him is just one of Rewind‘s many upsetting ironies.
And though the early passages of the film tease a queasy whodunnit as Sasha seemingly runs down his possible abusers, this slightly iffy aspect is thankfully ditched after the intro portion, and once the entirety of his sorry story has been detailed, seems decidedly less manipulative in retrospect.
While talking about spoilers in the context of a real-life horror story feels a tad glib, this review will nevertheless keep the details scant. Know simply that this increasingly twisted testament details a systemic pattern of familial abuse across generations, which Sasha’s therapist perversely yet correctly calls “the vile gift that keeps on giving.” The full extent of the abuse passed down the family line is never fully ascertained, yet this crowbars open a fascinating debate about nature vs. nurture, regardless of where you fall down on it.
Neulinger, a first-time filmmaker, makes brilliantly judicious editing choices throughout, intercutting uncomfortably intrusive home video footage with present-day talking head interviews and self-reflexive B-roll of Sasha agonising over the video evidence. Decades later, that precious home video footage is recontextualised, and what might’ve seemed like a tender glimpse of a man holding a baby at the time is now a stomach-churning nod towards a dark secret.
Given the utterly scandalous nature of the abuse Sasha suffered and how thoroughly it affected his family, it’s impressive that the film deftly skirts past muck-raking documentary cliches, as is surely a major benefit of the abused finding his own agency through the sheer act of making this film.
Much of the doc’s latter half focuses on how abuse changes not only the victim’s life, but also that of those around them. Interviews with Sasha’s father, who feels tremendous guilt for not acting earlier to potentially stamp the abuse out, are a heartbreaking reminder of how abusers manipulate not only the victim, but also those in their vicinity.
On a broader level, there’s a valuable critique of the judicial system’s approach to sexual abuse cases, namely having the victim be funnelled through dozens of traumatic interviews, while also proposing a novel and sensible solution to that issue. Elsewhere there’s the familiar takedown of a legal system that best benefits the rich and powerful, and one shone through an especially infuriating lens in this instance.
It’s impossible to fathom the courage needed to not only appear in a documentary about your own sexual abuse but suffer through presumably months of post-production as self-appointed director, yet even accepting this sad reality, there’s a genuine brio and tenacity to Neulinger’s direction. Far from a grubby exposé, Rewind is a completely horrifying yet absolutely vital look at the systemic cause-and-effect of child sexual abuse. Intensely intimate and upsetting, as it should be.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.