Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Nadja Brand, Eric Colvin, Abbey Stirlilng
Directed by Simon Boyes and Adam Mason
Survival horror seems to be the hip new thing right now, thanks in no small part to the success of movies like Saw, so it’s no surprise that this new trend managed to find its way across the pond and into the hands of some very disturbed Englishmen. What is surprising, however, is how they manage to take such a simplistic premise and keep it running smoothly over the course of a full-length running time, which says a lot for the skill with which Broken was made.
We start off with what equates to a visual gut punch: a girl wakes up in a coffin, terrified, as we all would be in such a situation. She manages to get the lid off the box only to discover that it wasn’t below ground in the first place, and for a moment she believes she is free. A rifle butt to the face derails that line of thought, however, and when she wakes up this time, her situation is much worse. Balanced precariously on some sticks and stones, she is tied to a tree by her neck. The only way to cut the rope and free herself is to pry open the newly-stitched wound on her stomach to remove the razor blade a maniac has stored there. I won’t spoil it for you, but needless to say, she doesn’t exactly make it.
Cut to a few weeks later and we’re introduced to Hope (Brand), a name that I’m sure was not chosen at random. She’s a single mom who’s just gotten back on the dating scene, and everything seems to be going well for her… until she, too, wakes up in a coffin and finds herself in the same predicament as the last girl. Hope makes it, however, but her reward isn’t pleasant; she’s to stay with the nameless madman (Colvin), disavowing any knowledge of her past life and being treated as a slave. The Man, as the credits refer to him, lives in the middle of woods with only a poorly constructed lean-to serving as any sort of shelter. Hope perseveres despite numerous cruelties, at first hoping to be reunited with her six-year-old daughter at some point and later, once she’s resigned herself to the fact that her daughter is dead, to live long enough to enact her revenge.
Another victim brought to camp about halfway into the movie serves to make things a bit more interesting, just about the time you think things couldn’t get much worse. She meets with a nasty tongue-related punishment because she’s unable to stop screaming and mewling for two days straight, and to be honest, I almost felt she had it coming by the time it happened. Hope tries everything both before and after the new arrival, but too many missed or misused opportunities leave her stuck in the camp for longer than one would think possible. We, the audience, are informed as to how long thanks to titles that show up every few minutes to indicate what day it is, which at one point rather jarringly jump from day twentysomething to day sixty-one. You get the feeling we may have missed something…
Broken has its share of issues, most of which will bother some more than others; first, the aforementioned titles, which for some reason the directors chose to throw into the middle of a new scene instead of right before it a few times, a method that honestly got to be very confusing. There is virtually no communication between Hope and The Man from Day One forward, which is likely due to him wanting to remain in control and not reveal anything about himself, but it also prevents him from ever giving any sort of motive. Is it more frightening that he just does these horrific things to women to see if they’re survivors, fit to join him in his dingy kingdom for no other reason than companionship and the need to maintain control? I wished more than once for something more that would explain how he got to this point, or at least how long he’d been doing it. We’re never given anything, however, and I’m sure for some that will make it all the more frightening of an experience.
Broken is, however, a triumph of independent cinema just because it manages to place an entire movie in one central location, a location which happens to be outdoors no less, and feature characters who almost never speak. Most of the time indie films feel the need to show just how much like a major they can make their film look with their meager budget, but Broken glorifies in its small scale and even smaller cast. To be able the chart the progress of this woman’s journey from a scared mother willing to say or do anything to get back her daughter to a survivalist who is almost as skilled as her captor, with only one locale and minimalist dialogue… not an easy task, to be sure, but they pulled it off.
Aside from the opening scenes there’s surprisingly little bloodshed as the torture turns psychological rather than physical, with some painful exceptions, when Hope becomes The Man’s slave. The final bit of violence between the two is especially vicious, I should add, and like the rest of the film certainly not for the squeamish. Or for those who have a Dammers-esque reaction to women screaming, cause by God is there a lot of that going on…
There’s no word on when Broken will be hitting the U.S., or anywhere else for that matter, but it just took home the audience award (which is shared with Blood Trails) at Edinburgh’s Dead by Dawn film festival, so I expect it’ll be showing up at more fests in the coming months. Despite some minor technical and logical flaws, Broken still managed to be a testament to what can be accomplished with a sick imagination and a lot of patience.
3 1/2 out of 5
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