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The Independent Critic

Andy Scott Harris, Carlton Wilborn, Leslie Stevens. Dee Wallace
Jolene Adams
Jane E. Ryan, Jolene Adams (Additional Material, Revisions)
99 Mins.

 "The Boarder" Addresses the Subject of Reactive Attachment Disorder 
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There was just another one in the news this morning. A 15-year-old boy whose story I don't know and whose story I may never know for some inexplicable reason took an assault rifle and murdered his entire family.

Dad, a chaplain and pastor. Mom. Three younger siblings.

All shot multiple times. The reason isn't clear, at least not yet. There will be those who talk about the continued decompensation of society, while others will use it to preach about gun control. There may be others who talk about a failing mental health system.

All valid arguments or at least valid discussions.

With The Boarder, director Jolene Adams brings to the forefront a subject that few discuss and even fewer understand - Reactive Attachment Disorder. Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD, is "often described as a rare but severe form of Attachment Disorder that can affect children who have been traumatized and or separated from a parent, which causes a failure to attach in early life, or to complete the attachment process during the bonding phase of their development" according to the website for The Boarder.

In this case, the story takes place in the city of Lincoln, Nebraska. Annika (Leslie Stevens) is a middle-class mother who left teaching so that she could help launch her teenagers into their lives. Her husband, Zeb (Carlton Wilborn), is a local pastor with a fierce devotion to the welfare of children. As the movie starts, the family is acknowledged as having had success with one troubled child and so the children's services worker suggests they help Carl (Andy Scott Harris). Carl is a longtime foster placement whose multi-layered challenges have made him a particularly challenging placement

Carl can be a sweet, charming and adorable child. He can also be a violent, hateful and vengeful child with  serious impulse control issues.

In other words, Carl has Reactive Attachment Disorder.

The strain of Carl's complex challenges is most wearing on Annika, a seemingly normal wife and mother who begins to feel anything but normal after a relatively short time trying to nurture and guide Carl. As you watch their encounters, there's a pretty good chance you'll find yourself mumbling at some point "I'd send him back."

That's the power of The Boarder - It paints an honest portrait of a situation facing many families and children today. How do we plant the seeds of hope in young lives that have often been torn apart from a young age?

Can we even do so?

Is there hope? Or are we destined to keep having more and more situations of children whose lives and families suffer through the unpredictability and volatility so often associated with Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Not surprisingly, there's a strong thread of faith that weaves its way through The Boarder, a film that holds on to hope even while acknowledging the very real peril that exists for this family and for families like this one. The relationships are painted realistically, including the strains that such a child can put on them. Leslie Stevens gives a terrific performance as Annika, embodying everything that we'd expect from a loving pastor's wife yet also showing the cracks and the vulnerabilities that rise to the surface as her relationship with Carl becomes more and more challenged. Carlton Wilborn, as well, does a fine job as the pastor whose faith will need to be strong enough to endure this challenge.

The film's most revealing performance comes from Andy Scott Harris as Carl. Harris gives nothing short of an incredible performance as Carl, managing to elicit sympathy despite portraying a character whose actions at times are anything but sympathetic. As a sexual abuse survivor myself, it became difficult to detach from the heartfelt and vulnerable performance that Harris serves up in living out Carl's deeply felt woundedness and his achingly painful desire to gain some semblance of control of his actions.

The Boarder is already experiencing quite a bit of success on the film festival circuit with screenings at the Omaha Film Festival along with screenings in Maryland, California, Nebraska and Georgia among others. The film is a perfect selection for both indie and family film festivals and it's honest portrayal of an issue previously untouched by cinema is one that will stay with you long after the closing credits have rolled.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic