Of the many, many depressing Netflix documentaries I have seen, Children Underground is really punishing, like a really long version of one of those ads where Alyssa Milano asks you to spare thirty cents a day for a child in Africa, except the children are in Eastern Europe and huffing paint. The 2001 documentary is about some of the many homeless, orphaned children who lived on the streets of Romania as a result of the explosive rise in youth population that resulted from Nicolae Ceauşescu’s laws outlawing abortion and birth control.
The children profiled in the film live in underground in the subways. Although they form small gangs and try to look out for each other, most are fully aware how hopeless their lives are either because they’ve never met their parents, or their lives at home are so miserable due to alcoholism and abuse that streets seem like a better alternative. Many of the kids seem to have mental impairments, from their addiction to huffing silver paint or because they display the tell-tale physical signs of fetal alcohol syndrome (or both).
Even when a nun steps in and tries to rescue a brother and sister, wary charity workers warn her that after a certain amount of time on the streets, these kids essentially become feral and can’t be saved. This is not a documentary for people who don’t like to make themselves miserable on purpose, but if you don’t mind artificially-induced sadness and are fascinated by the fallout from the end of Communism in Eastern Europe and Asia, then brace yourself for Children Underground.