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Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Broken, 2008 - Movie Review

Director: Sean Ellis
Starring: Lena Headey, Melvil Poupaud, Richard Jenkins, Asier Newman, Michelle Duncan
Running Time: 88 minutes
Score: 5 / 10

This review is by Chris Pandolfi.

Watching "The Broken" is like playing an endless game of Clue without ever finding out who killed Mr. Boddy. It's a mystery without a solution, a tense psychological drama that reveals nothing other than how tense and psychological it is. It plays mind games only with itself, leaving the audience to watch from the sidelines in a bored, confused stupor. The idea behind it is intriguing, and for a time, it successfully builds itself up. The thing is, the act of building is pointless if there's no height requirement. At a certain point, it becomes painfully clear that the story will only keep building without ever reaching anything. I do give it credit for creating the right atmosphere; the characters inhabit a moody, subdued world where nothing seems safe, not even a person's own home. But atmosphere can only go so far, even in a horror film. It also needs an understandable story with an ending that doesn't leave us with more questions than answers.

It doesn't help that "The Broken" is unbearably slow, and this is despite the relatively short running time of eighty-eight minutes. Specific shots are dragged out so long that I eventually stopped waiting for something shocking to happen. It works only the first few times, at which point I kept in mind that suspense is most effective when things go slowly. After those few times pass, however, the film comes dangerously close to being boring, moments of horror and all. This is probably because it does a fine job showing us what happens, but it does a terrible job explaining why or how it's happening. By the end of the film, I was unable to make heads or tails of what I had just seen. What a shame, especially since it opens on such a promising note.

The film begins by quoting the final lines of Edgar Allen Poe's short story "William Wilson": "You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also dead--dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope! In me didst thou exist--and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself." The story, you see, explores the theme of the doppelganger, or the double, where the self is divided amongst two separate yet identical bodies. In Poe's story, another William Wilson--who looks similar and shares the same birthday--continuously haunts the protagonist to the point of insanity. The same theme exists in "The Broken," which tells the story of Gina McVey (Lena Headey), a British radiologist who, after seeing a clone of herself, gets into a serious car accident. As she recovers, she begins to fear that things aren't quite right, that her French boyfriend, Stephan (Melvil Poupaud), isn't the person he once was.

From here, the story takes a long-winded journey through strange territory, where mirrors constantly shatter and fragmented bits of memory keep flashing on the screen. Gina keeps trying to make sense of the crash, and apparently, so is writer/director Sean Ellis, who constantly shows it in slow-motion replays from various angles. He also relies greatly on composer Guy Farley, whose score is almost entirely made up of dissonant crescendos. It creates a mood, but what good is mood without context? Scary things keep happening, yet there's no explanation for any of it, which tells me one of two things: Either this movie is an experimental art piece that intentionally challenges rational thought, or Ellis was so taken by the psychological themes that he neglected to focus on an actual plot. It's difficult to believe that it's the former, given the fact that Gina is not the only character with a doppelganger problem. Her American father (Richard Jenkins), her brother (Asier Newman), and her brother's wife (Michelle Duncan) are all affected in some way, probably because of a scene early in the film--when the entire family eats dinner at the father's house, a large mirror in the dining room suddenly falls over and shatters.

For the sake of argument, let us say that "The Broken" is intended to challenge rational thought. Are we to assume, then, that the plot itself is irrelevant, that we're only supposed to follow the psychological implications? If that's the case, then there's no better example of it than a plot twist near the end of the film, which, if you choose to interpret it metaphorically, effectively raises questions about which side of a mirror represents the reflection.

But again, the fact that more than one character has a doppelganger makes the idea difficult to accept. How could such a broad psychological concept apply to so many people? Maybe this film would have worked had it focused entirely on Gina, because at least then the mystery would be much less open to interpretation. There would be some sense that the story is actually reaching for something. When you have multiple characters with evil doubles of themselves, the symbolic ideas are bound to get hopelessly confused with one another. Such is the problem with "The Broken," a film that puts too many characters into a needlessly enigmatic story. I have no doubt that Ellis is trying to get at something, but for the life of me, I haven't a clue what it is. The only thing I got out of it, aside from the atmosphere, was a desire to reread the works of Edgar Allen Poe. So maybe seeing this film wasn't such a bad idea after all.

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just finished watching this movie and psychological explanations aside I thought this was the worst movie I have ever seen , I had trouble staying awake and to make it more of an interesting horror movie i was hoping for some kind of invasion of the body snatchers theme or anything but what I had to sit through , Please if anybody can give me an explanation of this movie I m at warriormax@peoplepc.com , I hate to say it but the only redeeming part of this movie was the nudity and I rarely say such things .....

Anonymous said...

Here is my interpretation. This is a spoiler. So beware, don't read if you want to struggle through the movie yourself. The premise of the movie is that it occurs during a period where malevelent beings are breaking out from a parallel universe that connects to ours at the reflective surface of glass mirrors. Each of the beings takes on an identical likeness to the victims that look into these mirrors. Early in the movie, the main character, a women, is involved in a head on car crash. She pulls through with only a scratch above the eye. However, thereafter there are many confusing and terrifying situations for her. The psychologists suggests she is suffering from brain damage and memory distortion. The shrink assures her that her memory will return to normal as the brain heals. The key to undertanding the suprise ending is that the main character is in fact a member the the malevalent group and is indeed suffering from some consequence of the collision. But now her brain is healing and she realizes the truth of her membership. Now she can join the growing number of beings invading our world. Finishing out the movie in the last scenes, the brother of the women's victum, learns the truth that his sister has been replaced by the being. We can only hope he can somehow raise the alarm before all the world is taken over. Ok, makes sense?

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