Horror-esque Representations of PTSD in “Recovery”

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As our society grows more comfortable with conversations about mental health and the demons that many carry throughout life, it is becoming a well-known fact that the demons our soldiers and veterans saddle on their back during and after combat can be the most deadly of all.

The new suspense-filled indie Recovery does more than offer cheap thrills, it also sheds light on a dark issue: the lack of support for those put through the perils of war when they return. “According to a study conducted by the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research, less than half of returning veterans needing mental health services receive any treatment at all.” This is an issue that has long gone unsolved and has inevitably led to another issue of self-medication in a variety of methods, causing matters to spiral even further.

Recovery intertwines the two social epidemics of untreated mental illness and drug addiction, painting a picture of our fraught reality, while also foreshadowing a potential future when the pot eventually boils over (mild spoiler: our main character never really receives help that she needs).

The film takes place at a secluded all-female heroin treatment center in the middle of a fierce snowstorm. Stephanie Pearson gives a riveting performance as Ronnie, a young recently admitted addict who has already gone through three tours of Afghanistan in her life and struggles deeply with PTSD, along with self-denial of her illness. Her symptoms include hallucinations and blackouts that often result in violence and a lack of recollection. She is rebellious, impulsive, and quick to pick an argument with anyone in her way.

Her first interactions at the establishment are with Dr. Jessica Barnes (played by Hope Quattrocki), who is stern, yet has a soft spot for Ronnie, most likely due to the fact that her own brother also served and dealt with the after-effects. Ronnie has a series of blackouts resulting in violence during her first days at the center and the head of the facility, Dr. Taylor (Mike Starr) ultimately decides to discharge her but must wait until the police come in the snowstorm. The atmosphere is already tense until mysterious murders start occurring. All fingers are immediately pointed to Ronnie, but things just aren’t adding up in that narrative. Now, let’s get into the meat of it, shall we?

The pros:

The editing had to be my favorite part of the film. There are these infrequent flashes of ominous looking men, most likely from Ronnie’s past military experience, haunting her before she has a violent blackout. If you choose to give the film a watch, the scene where she gets her uniform out truly gave me chills. The directing and editing choices give an authentic moment of blurring trauma-induced imaginings with reality. This happens more than once, with Ronnie’s hallucinations signaling to her that she is in danger, only to have her mind betraying her as she becomes violent with someone innocent.

As said before, Ronnie’s characterization was really well fleshed out and the performance was in tune with her lines. We know her and we understand her. Everyone else’s characters lagged a bit as a result, but I found myself desperately wishing Katherine (Aily Kei) had some lines! She was a phenomenal supporting role as a young woman struggling with addiction all her life and having communication problems so severe that she is almost somewhat mute. Clearly, her lack of lines is necessary given her character, but it was so convincing that I found myself yearning for Aily Kei’s other performances.

Now for the cons:

I really struggled with some of the details of the story. First off, this is not a horror. Yes, there’s blood and gore, but as the horror genre reaches new heights with new thoughts on fear and the psychology of the viewer, this film falls much more in the thriller genre. And though it aims to touch on PTSD and mental health, as well as how these ailments intersect with drug addiction, there is an abundance of unsatisfactory tropes of rehabilitation patients being portrayed as hopeless cases.

The dialogue is lackluster, failing to explain the important background on some of these characters which just leads the way for stereotypes to manifest. In this day and age, we must get deeper with these issues. There is no true depth to anyone but Ronnie.

In conclusion..

Even though the story bored me at points, lines fell flat, and the music was just not the best, the subject matter of Recovery is important and represents a growing disdain for the lack of resources for veterans. Just take a look at the Army tweet that, well, didn’t go so well. If you’re looking for a decent thriller with some dynamic cinematic choices that also connects to relevant social issues, I would give it a watch. Though there is a clear villain in the end, the monster of unchecked PTSD is also a killer here, as well as in reality.

New horror thriller RECOVERY released on June 4th, 2019 in the U.S. and Canada in-stores, digitally, and on demand.