As with Hatchet on Friday, I found myself distinctly out of step with a number of fans at FrightFest in finding this Sunday morning screening an atrocious film. Looking online, I see it both premiered, and was awarded Best Feature, at Dead By Dawn earlier this year, and while I am loathe to dissent with that festival’s rabidly loyal audience and its erudite, impeccably tasteful director, but dissent I must. Both the most unpleasant and the least interesting film of the weekend for me (but then I missed both Frostbite and Adrift, which I was reliably informed were both so-so in the entertainment stakes), I must call attention to the missed fundamentals which drove me to distraction in this feature.
The Man, a forest-dwelling survivalist, kidnaps women, then runs them through his own mini-gauntlet to see if they deserve to live and become his servants. Involving burial alive, followed by potential hanging if they fail to unpick the fresh wound in their stomach secreting a razor blade, Hope survives this ordeal by focusing on her six-year-old daughter, last alive in bed a the very home from which she was kidnapped. Does she have what is necessary to survive long enough to escape?
I will freely admit that the quality of the lighting, the meagre production design and the gore effects were very well done – some of the photography was not bad either. However, two fundamental things prevented me from enjoying this latest entry in the current wave of torture chic that is sweeping horror as a genre internationally – bad acting and dreadful continuity. Claiming to be based on real events, and going out of its way to employ realistic gore effects, the film then destroys believability in that the lead actress is one of the most unconvincing performers I have ever seen, and that includes GCSE drama and A-Level Media projects witnessed in my former professional capacity as a teacher. The ponderous delay as her face goes from blank to emotional, at moments which required as spontaneous an outburst as she and the director could manufacture between them, speaks volumes about the lack of talent on display from both departments. Given the script asks nothing more of her then to worry about her kid, occasionally get angry with the blank-faced bad guy, and show pain a lot, you could argue she does a fine job, but those delayed reactions simply kill the believability stone-dead. Smarter editing and more careful construction of dialogue scenes, rather than simply looking for the most dramatic angle to demonstrate to Hollywood backers that the director and cameraman can also do that angle, would have helped immensely.
The script’s so-called “back-to-basics” approach forgets to provide anything resembling a decent motivation for the bad guy. By making him clearly human, there is no supernatural element to cover this up, and given that the entire film is generated by his actions, and that he repeats himself at various times, you have to ask, why is he doing this? What drove him to this point in time that these torture games seem like his best bet for relating to women? Small hints are dropped here and there – the rural hunter/poacher outfit and haircut, the obsession with tempering the spirit through cruelty – but not enough to explain his decision to go after other women when he already has one, or his final parting gift to her. This last twist, something reviewers were asked to not give away, is perhaps the final insult to the viewer, a moment of teenage nihilism that robs the entire preceding 90+ minutes of any worth or value.
Finally, the continuity – shot over a period of two years on an apparently low budget, the film nevertheless fails to keep up with the effects of the 30+ days on Hope’s wardrobe, which goes from torn and sweat, dirt and blood-laden, to pristinely white for her climactic stand over The Man, as if many washes in the forest stream are as effective over a month as Daz - the same goes for her red velvety skirt, clean as anything by the end of the ordeal. For those who think that I am overdoing this point, watch the torture scenes early on with Hope and then her ensuing scenes with The Man, and see if her shirt remains as you saw it on the tree – in fact, see if it remains that way while on the tree fiddling with her gut wound. Amateur stuff, and destroyed the hard work done by the fx crew and the screaming of the lead actress to upset your stomach. Others can feel free to praise this feature – I cannot bring myself to say any more than I already have, and even that is more than it deserves.
Broken has yet to be picked up for distribution so has no general release date at this time.