Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mel Raido, Craig Conway, Patrick Toomey
Directed by Shaun Robert Smith
Screened at FrightFest 2016
Live-in carer Evie (Alaoui) has a bit of a shitty existence. Literally. Her ward, tetraplegic ex-rockstar John (Raido), not only needs regular cleaning after his binges see him waking up covered in excrement… he’s also a complete and utter spite-filled bastard.
Having to put up with John’s constant smoking, drinking, partying and torrents of verbal abuse puts the delicate Evie (herself having escaped from an abusive background) in a constant state of agitation – something outright dismissed by her NHS contractor boss, who sees John as a ‘rite of passage’ client with whom younger nurses can prove their mettle.
Yet despite Evie’s efforts to truly connect with John – and John’s own efforts to overcome his self-loathing long enough to acknowledge Evie’s humanity – John’s thuggish best friend Dougie (Conway) often shows up to throw an aggressive spanner in the works. When one encounter with Dougie pushes things far across the line, Evie finds herself with no option but to take the situation in hand.
A film almost as dark as the thoughts of its wheelchair-bound subject, Broken is a bleak and affecting tale in which not only is the human body broken and dysfunctional, but the mind as well. Even those who outwardly appear to be in good health are often, beneath the surface, damaged, twisted, callous, uncaring and malicious to varying degrees. The life that John has built around himself – and thus reeled Evie into – is one that mirrors his own loathsome, misanthropic outlook, filled as it is with broken ‘friends’ and chemical excess.
Actor Mel Raido brings John to life with perfection, conjuring a truly despicable excuse for a man, so filled with pain and hatred that he can do little but spout nasty words and emit vile biliousness at the one person who supports him endlessly. Yet there’s still a light of humanity within him, often only glimpsed but apparent nonetheless, and the audience is constantly wondering whether there really is a chance Evie might be able to get through to him. Going through this emotional wringer is the endlessly impressive Alaoui, whose Evie faces a hideous amount of cruelty throughout Broken’s narrative – all the while stringing us along with hints of her own darkness.
Some of the worst abuse is to come from Conway’s Dougie, and the actor makes this particularly spiteful individual a villain for the books. The embodiment of physical threat, Dougie is a disgraceful thug whose quiet moments continue to vibrate with hostile intensity, and whose actions ultimately lead to Broken’s consistently taut wires reaching the inevitable snapping point.
Sadly, the method by which the film gets to that point is what is most disappointing about Broken – the script opting to go for carefully manufactured conversations that feel disingenuous in construction, designed only to keep the end-of-tether Evie within the claustrophobic (and by this point legitimately dangerous) confines of John’s home.
The result is a slam-bang finale that comes across as equally disingenuous given the fuel by which it has been propelled to the screen, and tonally distant from the harshly realist stance of the rest of the film. Still, getting there is the kind of challenging, uncomfortable experience that followers of gritty drama such as Broken will find absolutely compelling. With nuanced characters and outstanding central performances, it’s a hard-hitting slice of darkness that can be marked up as a solid success despite the unpalatably sour taste of the final stretch.