Krysten Ritter and Brian Geraghty, performers who have delivered striking work elsewhere, are hard to read in "Refuge," a torpid drama about a tentative new romance. Or perhaps they're too easy to read; whatever emotional depths filmmaker Jessica Goldberg hopes to suggest, there's nothing stirring beneath the movie's static surface. The central characters' coupledom might bring them a safe haven, but audiences will be left out in the cold.
Adapting her stage play, Goldberg uses wintry Southampton, N.Y., locations to convey a down-and-out working-class vibe. It's the most expressive aspect of the feature; the desolation of the landscape suits the story of two people who are struggling to deal with loss. Amy and Sam start things off with a casual barroom pickup. Out of a job and headed nowhere in particular, he transitions from one-night stand to rent-paying boarder and then to committed boyfriend, with a few uninvolving crises along the way.
The relationship alarms Amy's teenage siblings (Logan Huffman and Madeleine Martin), both damaged in their own unconvincing ways and disturbingly dependent on Amy, the surrogate parent who sacrificed a dream or two to fill the void left by their mother and father.
Explained rather than inhabited, the characters are half-formed, and their low-grade depression infects the underpowered storytelling. Literary references land in the dialogue with a mechanical thud. More effective are Goldberg's nods to reality — $9-an-hour construction jobs, anti-immigrant protesters — but ultimately, her story of redemptive love and healing has all the dramatic impact of a wish.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.
Playing: At Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood.