Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mel Raido, Craig Conway, Patrick Toomey
Directed by Shaun Robert Smith
The UK thriller Broken is, admittedly, a pretty tough sell: It’s difficult, somber, and one of the main characters is trapped in a wheelchair after a freak accident. Screening as part of the international offerings at the first annual Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, Shaun Robert Smith’s latest embraces its inherent melancholy and turns it into a tense depiction of two people that, for better or worse, have found themselves trapped together in a situation that neither of them wants to be in.
The standout performances and fiery conclusion of Broken inject the film with an energy that easily carries the audience past scenes filled with great hardship and despair. There’s also a lot of hardcore partying and drug use going on so that keeps things fun.
As an ex-rocker who paralyzed himself after thinking he could fly during a non-stop drug binge, John (Raido) wakes up every morning in constant physical and psychological agony, screaming for his fed up nurse, Evie (Alaoui), to change him, feed him, and be his personal punching bag. Having already reached her limit, it certainly doesn’t help things when John keeps inviting his scumbag friend Dougie (Conway) over to multiply the abuse Evie is already receiving. In a revolving door of punks and prostitutes, the house that provides for some touching, intimate moments between John and Evie during the day turns into a den of slack come nightfall. The real question that Broken is asking is: Who will be the one to break first?
Raido is electric as the crestfallen rock star, and whether he’s yelling or crying, you always want to hug him more than slap him, which is a testament to his acting because John is a nightmare of a human being. Alaoui also walks the line beautifully between caretaker and victim, and it’s compelling to watch her become more of a catalyst for pain instead of just a recipient of John’s anguish.
Broken also has a wide-ranging, eclectic group of songs throughout the film that provide musical interludes that move the story along while allowing for some momentary escapism from the desperate circumstances inside John’s dwelling. Slow tracks layered with guitar distortion and heavy reverb set up a hypnotic mood that carries over into loud, violent beats running in the background during the long nights of debauchery and excess. Both sets of music reflect the headspaces of John and Evie in a way where the audience can take a break from their bickering while still relating to them on a purely sonic level.
Once Evie reaches her limit in one intense scene around the halfway point, she is forced to deal with her own dark past by confronting her current situation without jeopardizing her oath to take care of John no matter what. What’s happening in the present digs up memories she’s constantly trying to forget, but John’s desperation and general assholery force those thoughts into the foreground to the point where both of them may be in actual danger.
Broken is carried by its central performances but also has a surprising sense of style and a sure hand from Smith, who tells this story confidently, which keeps the decidedly shocking ending from feeling like the plot just went off the rails. Rewarded after sticking with the struggle of these two characters, the ending should make you smirk after making you want to scream early on. Refraining from being too graphic until the conclusion, it’s worth getting past Broken’s premise in order to see which side wins out in the end.