Monday, September 25, 2023

The Broken (Great Britain, 2008)

This flawed but slick and engrossing horror film is the second feature-film project written and directed by Sean Ellis, his follow-up film to his absolutely repulsive feature-film directorial debut, Cashback (2006 / trailer). That film, a surrealistic and mostly lauded indie film that he likewise scripted, for all its incessant celebration of the beauty of the nude female form, is perhaps one of the most unconsciously anti-women films of the century so far, a cinematic mistake that basically reduces beautiful women to objects that need not give consent to be stripped and that makes a hipster serial molester of women its hero. Luckily, while all the lead babes in The Broken, of which there are really only two, are babalicious — we doubt director Ellis would have it any other way, and are still surprised that the woman playing a consulate secretary was made up to look like a normal consulate secretary instead of a model — The Broken refrains, at least as far as we could tell, from any subliminal or overt objectification or misogyny. Whereas Cashback, for all its Emperor's clothing and ignorance, is a horrific film, The Broken is simply a horror film. As such, it is an extremely polished and methodically paced one that doesn't really tread any new ground but is both well-acted and well-shot. And while it doesn't exactly offer a twist ending that you don't already see miles in advance (and that doesn't really hold water), it remains both interesting and watchable to the end.
Trailer to
The Broken:
Much like the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 / trailer, with Dana Wynter) and all its remakes and reimaginings, The Broken is a tale of the sudden appearance of doppelgangers and the slow replacement of the original. There really isn't any true explanation for the why of the sudden timing or occurrence of the doppelgangers (no witchcraft, no scientific experiment gone wrong, not aliens from outer space or some other dimension), they just suddenly start happening without any real rationalization. One day, in the homes and workplaces of upper-crust London — and probably, one imagines, in the lives of any and all crusts everywhere — the doppelgangers suddenly start breaking out of mirrors (and mirrors have been around a damn long time). But freed from 2-D into flesh-and-blood 3-D reality, they coldly do away with those they once reflected and coldly, emotionlessly, replace them. 
Not that anyone in the world of The Broken realizes this; only the successful radiologist Gina (the almost always excellent Lena Headley, of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies [2016 / trailer], Dread [2012 / trailer], and The Purge [2013]), a few days after a family dinner at which a mirror mysteriously shatters, comes to notice something is off when she suddenly sees someone who looks exactly like her drive past in her own car and enter her own apartment building. She follows her doppelganger, only to flee in her car and, distracted, to promptly have a major car accident. She barely survives, her memory gone, and eventually moves into the place of her successful architect boyfriend, Stefan, to recuperate. But Stefan (Melvil Poupaud of 44 Inch Chest [2009 / trailer] and Black Heaven [2010 / trailer]) is oddly cold and indifferent, the apartment oddly alienating, and the nightmares constant, and Gina cannot shake the feeling that something is wrong. And so she begins to play Miss [sexy-looking but bruised] Marple, looking for what she does not know...
The Broken is a deliberately paced film that is pretty much a detective mystery, complete with a thrilling escape from someone battering at the door of a locked bathroom, when it doesn't pause for its moments of dread and shock (and its singular money-shot gore scene), but by the movie's resolution it is 100% end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it horror. The London setting is appropriately bleak, and even the scenes that are not set at night or in spottily lit apartments or bathrooms or offices or hospitals or car-repair shops come across as cold and drab and unwelcoming. The Broken has moody atmosphere in spades.
In addition to the excellent cinematography and appropriate narrative ambience, Ellis also culls truly good performances from his entire cast; as Gina, Headley in particular really proves her acting mettle and she even manages to believably deliver what should be the hardest punch of the movie with a simple change of her facial expression. One does occasionally get the feeling, particularly due to the use of not only dream sequences but even a dream-within-a-dream sequence, as well as the movie's very deliberate pacing, that Ellis found it slightly difficult to stretch his narrative to feature-film length. Luckily, however, he manages to reinvigorate the viewer's interest — a slow-motion accident here, a fist-in-the-mouth killing there — often enough that the movie never truly becomes cinematic valerian. A director interested in details, he even tosses in a throw-away scene that, upon later consideration, implies the inexplicable doppelganger phenomenon is also occurring amongst animals (re: the dog[s] in the automobile graveyard). 
The Broken is anything but revolutionary or new; in fact, most of its tropes can be found in other movies, though many of those movies aren't as well made as this one. And that is the saving grace of The Broken, for while you may have seen the ingredients before, the director mixes them adroitly together into a deliciously high-quality cinematic cocktail. The Broken is hardly indispensable or unskippable, but it is nevertheless an absorbing slow-burn of a horror movie that keeps you captivated until its nicely depressing and appropriately bleak conclusion. 
If Sean Ellis first feature film, Cashback, gave us the feeling that we never want to watch another movie of his (indeed, had it registered to us The Broken was from that the director of Cashback, we would probably not have bothered with the movie), The Broken makes us think that his latest feature film, The Cursed (2021 / trailer), might be indeed worth a watch. But it also raises questions that it does not answer, and not just the one of why did it take so long for the reflections to decide to break free. To wit: Do the killer reflections themselves have reflections? And will their reflections one day break free and kill them? Is this thus the beginning of a möbius strip of reflective deaths?

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