The history of fictional movies inside real movies is as classically immersive as The Dancing Cavalier (Singin’ in the Rain) and as winkingly self-reflexive as the Stab franchise (from Scream 2 onward).
But such in-movie movies are seldom seen from the vantage of believable basement cinephiles like Rehab Cabin’s Chloe (Lacey Jeka) and Domenic (Scott Mandel). The two lifelong friends are fairly ordinary fans—except for the fact that they’re about to kidnap their favorite actor, Amanda Campbell (Alexandra Stebbins), the star of the fictitious teen film World Wide Witch.
Scripted and co-directed by Portlander Kate Beacom (who shares story credit with Domenic D’Andrea), Rehab Cabin is a daring, deconstructive comedy that premiered at the Portland International Film Festival in 2021 and will arrive on VOD (via Apple TV and iTunes) on Aug. 2. Pitting obsessive cinephilic charm against anxieties born of an increasingly strained friendship, it’s a narrative tightrope walk leading to a crime that is, well, a very serious crime.
Rehab Cabin is the sort of movie that acknowledges out loud that Beauty and the Beast-style Stockholm Syndrome is the “best-case scenario” for Chloe and Domenic’s semi-benevolent plan to ferry Campbell to rural upstate New York, dry her out, and get her career back on track.
Yet for all the premise’s outlandishness, Chloe and Domenic’s journey will resonate with anyone whose social life is anchored in movies. The characters may be aspiring abductors, but as they rewatch World Wide Witch (which has a Goosebumps aesthetic and the star-making aspirations of Disney Channel originals) for the millionth time, there’s a credible bedrock to their friendship in the way they recite lines, lovingly roast plot holes and reclaim Campbell’s work.
While Beacom says World Wide Witch was basically a “lightning bolt” fabrication of ‘90s VHS-core, the inspiration behind Rehab Cabin stems from their childhood daydream of saving a distressed movie star. Though they’d prefer not to name the actor, the archetype of the struggling ex-child star is instantly recognizable (think Lindsay Lohan or Amanda Bynes).
“With child actors growing up in front of you, you get really attached, especially if you’re roughly their age,” Beacom says of the film’s inspiration. “You’re able to project yourself onto them in a way, like, ‘Oh, I was [also] 13 when I saw that movie.’”
The result? Fandom with the potential to devolve into possessiveness. The fantasy goes something like this: While the media wring out a once-celebrated prodigy, salvation lies in the imperiled celebrity finding safety and normalcy with their most devoted followers.
“I do think there is some element of the unattainable with the celebrity, but it also makes you, as the normal person, feel exceptional,” Beacom says. “Because your relationship with [the actor] is so personal. It’s so weird.”
While Beacom describes this mentality as “demented,” they’ve found that it’s relatively common. In fact, part of what made Beacom comfortable with co-directing the script (which they first conceived at 22, fresh out of the School of Visual Arts) was that co-director Louis Legge and others in the cast and crew related to the dream of forcing a celebrity to live a normal life for their own good.
Onscreen, Lacey Jeka’s lead performance as Chloe encompasses both sympathetic arrested development and domineering mania—both fan girl and warden. Aubrey Plaza in Ingrid Goes West might be a recognizable and recent indie-comedy cousin, but Beacom likens Jeka’s facility with fiendishly unsettling humor to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.
“I find it extremely hard to not watch her at all times,” Beacom says of Jeka, who’s appeared on Search Party and is now Beacom’s close friend and writing partner on multiple feature scripts in progress.
Even if Rehab Cabin is ultimately a comedic caution against detachment from reality, some part of Chloe’s worldview may prove cathartic for many movie dorks.
“If you’re living your life like a movie, you’re adding value in some way,” Beacom says. “I’ve lived my life wishing it was all a really wonderful montage and then come to grips that life is actually all the parts in between the montage. But that makes life and movies special.”
SEE IT: Rehab Cabin is available on VOD via Apple TV and iTunes starting Tuesday, Aug. 2.