Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Kate Logan
Written by: Kate Logan & Yada Zamora
Starring: Kate Logan, Dan Anderson, Deb Hatland, Cindy Hundley, Doug Lyons, David Wernsman & Tai Mathieu
If you were deeply upset and disturbed by JESUS CAMP, then you should probably be warned that KIDNAPPED FOR CHRIST makes that film look like an upbeat comedy in comparison. This documentary examines Escuela Caribe, a “school” for troubled American teens that’s located in the Dominican Republic. Props to filmmaker Kate Logan, an evangelical missionary/film student who took an interest in the school and went there to report on the positive things it was doing for at-risk youth. What she discovered there was something else entirely and caused the documentary to take a darker turn. These “troubled” kids were kidnapped, taken out of the country against their will, and being subjected to a never-ending stream of harsh mental torment and brutal physical abuse. To make things even more sickening, lots of cash was flowing in from the grateful parents of these teenage captives. Kate does her best to expose the unethical, inhumane and abusive practices at Escuela Caribe…as well as briefly shine a spotlight on similar programs across the nation.
David recently came out as gay to his parents. Tai is a troubled girl with a bit of a rebellious streak. Beth is an anxiety-prone teen who frequently experiences panic attacks. What do these three kids have in common? Well, they were all taken in the middle of the night by Christian extremists and quietly shipped out of the country to Escuela Caribe….oh, and their parents paid a hefty sum of money to make this happen. The intention was to straighten out their kids through a rigorous religious program…whose motto isn’t really “Jesus Saves,” but rather “Jesus is okay with physical and mental torture as long as you wind up thinking the same way we do.” Kate’s documentary focuses on these three kids, the abusive practices of Escuela Caribe (which are not solely exclusive to this “school” as you can find horror stories about several other youth detention camps across America), and using the idea of religion to justify abuse in God’s name.
I have mentioned in previous reviews that I am an atheist, which obviously means that my views on religion might be different from yours. It should also be mentioned that KIDNAPPED FOR CHRIST is clearly not representative of every Christian as the film shows there are many religious people opposed to these practices and fighting to get these “pray the gay away” camps shut down. The film is upsetting in the same way that JESUS CAMP is, in showing mentally abusive tactics being thrown onto children. The reason that KIDNAPPED FOR CHRIST is even more infuriating results from Esceula Caribe, which is just one of many extreme (see: borderline illegal) religious detention centers which takes its manipulative tactics to the extreme by implementing borderline emotional torture and outright physical abuse (which is admitted by the counselors).
These “troubled” teens are subjected to hard labor and mental torment on a daily basis (the girl suffering from panic attacks is not coping well at all). Everything is carefully laid out to the camera by the school’s counselors who explain a level system (0 for rebellion to 4 for unquestioning obedience to authority), the harsh punishments (making these kids feel pain for the supposed pain that they’re inflicting on those around them, confiscating shoes for having laces stuck out, forcing people to do sit ups at the dinner table on a whim, etc.), and how damn difficult it is to escape from the center. Leaders out-and-out lie to these kids when they reach the age of eighteen, telling them they have no adult rights in the Dominican Republic. This is all extremely upsetting and depressing to watch, especially when we get interviews from David’s friends who miss him and fight to get him released.
Interviews with David, Beth, and Tai give us insight to their experiences and we see the quiet terror on their faces as they try not to say anything that might potentially upset a nearby counselor. David has a big role to play in the proceedings as he confides personal information to Kate that could get him beaten. There’s a creepy vibe to this whole detention center being heavily guarded to an extent where I was waiting for Jim Jones to walk out any minute. First of all, it’s in another country where these teens have no easy escape. Second of all, they cannot confide in the leaders who use any opportunity to inflict more punishments upon them (one story about being outed as gay in front of the other students is especially upsetting). Thirdly, we see the elaborate measures that Escuela Caribe takes to keep their “good” image towards parents (e.g. searching mail, frequently raiding bunks, recording all phone calls, etc.). As Kate begins to sympathize with the children and question the center’s ethics, counselors and leaders seem to be going out their way to thwart revealing interviews and more cracks hiding beneath the façade.
If there are any complaints to be had with KIDNAPPED FOR CHRIST they stem from two areas. A brief touch on the legality of these detention centers is given towards the end, but it feels like “too little, too late.” I feel this probably should have been discussed more in-depth as Kate’s experience with the center began to take a questionable turn. Also, a former counselor is occasionally interviewed, but not enough of her is shown to give a full account of her anguish from having participated in something so abhorrently abusive towards teenage kids. These are two minor gripes with an otherwise solid documentary that gets its infuriating, upsetting point across. You’ll likely want to punch something and scream loudly once it’s is over and who could blame you? This entire situation is utterly insane and continues to occur across the U.S.A. Kate Logan did a great service to society by making this documentary and I hope that it deeply affects people for years to come.