“Child sexual abuse is the vile gift that keeps on giving,” says a psychologist in the documentary Rewind. No truer statement on the subject exists. People who sexually molest children were almost always sexually abused themselves as kids. (Not that it's an excuse.) The cycle continues until someone stops it, and the longer it goes on, the more devastation it causes. What some fail to understand is that the trauma doesn't cease once the abuse ends. Survivors spend years, sometimes even decades struggling with depression and/or anxiety. Director Sasha Joseph Neulinger tells his own story here, using the film as a form of therapy that might also benefit others. If you have any interest whatsoever in the subject of child sexual abuse, the movie is essential viewing.
When Neulinger was a child, his father bought a video camera and obsessively filmed his family. We see much of that footage. It illustrates a chilling point: Neulinger changes as he grows. Birthdays, holidays, and other activities are recorded, yet in the background is a young boy with a developing anger problem. What the camera couldn't catch is that he was being sexually abused by someone who threatened him with harm if he told anyone.
Documentaries aren't susceptible to spoilers in the same way that fictional movies are. Nevertheless, I feel like telling you who was molesting Neulinger and how it was happening would take something away from the film's experience. Seeing and hearing the details about how child sexual abuse infiltrated this family, spreading through it like wildfire, is a big part of Rewind's power. I will say, however, that Neulinger's story became very public, as it connected to a prominent family member that the “system” covered for after formal allegations were made. That's a major part of the impact, too – showing that predators often hide in plain sight, assuming the form of trusted, moral individuals. (See also: Jerry Sandusky, the more than 4,000 credibly accused Catholic priests in the United States, etc.)
Neulinger interviews his mother, father, and sister in the documentary. He specifically asks for pieces of information he did not previously have, such as what their thoughts were at the time, or what they observed about his behavior. We can see that just as he's working to heal, so are they. Additionally appearing on camera with the director are key figures in his life, from the psychologist who treated his trauma to the District Attorney who tried the case. Here, too, he seeks to retrieve memories he'd forgotten or to hear the perspective of others associated with the legal proceedings.
These elements, combined with Neulinger's own reminiscences and that revealing home video footage, make Rewind a compelling examination of the totality of child sexual abuse. The film takes a big picture approach, looking at the subject from all angles. The way the director's personal story played out is dramatic in and of itself. By expanding out from there, though, this thoughtful, emotional documentary delivers an unforgettable portrait of how insidious such abuse really is.
out of four
Rewind is unrated, but contains adult language and graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.