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Broken (2008)
Writer and director: Sean Ellis

review by Paul Higson

As the recession deepens filmgoers may think long and hard before handing over precious pennies on a cinema ticket. Peak time prices can hurt when you can alternatively see a several upcoming bands on a bill for not much more or might be able to spend clever on the ownership of several movies on DVD at the same cost. Sean Ellis' The Broken is a horror film that we could all wait for... maybe even forget about it until it turns up on satellite. The initial blessing that it runs for less than 90 minutes is soon blackened by the fact that there is nothing close to 90 minutes of content. This is all the sadder given that in its premise there are plentiful suggestions of directions it might have taken and plays that could have been made, if only the writer/ director had the imagination.

Talking of tales of imagination, The Broken opens with a quote from Edgar Allan Poe's William Wilson. It is the work from which the screenplay is derived. The dangerous doppelganger is a common theme in horror film and generally realised to good effect. Director, Alan Gibson and screenwriter Ranald Graham's Two Faces Of Evil from Hammer House Of Horror is the closest comparison that can be made to new film, but that single made-for-television drama was delivered at a fantastic and disturbing pace and at just above half the running time of The Broken. Gene Fowler's I Married A Monster From Outer Space, and Abel Ferrara's The Body Snatchers also similarly resemble but again, unlike The Broken, obtain and retain a hold on the viewer. From Doppelganger to It Came From Outer Space to The Man Who Haunted Himself, each film develops a paranoia or a concern about the duplicity of evil and seem to make the replacement theme, if anything, look easy for filmmakers to compose an interesting film... so how does Sean Ellis fail so miserably and come away with something this ponderous?

The Broken does not begin in complete hopelessness, as no film does, but over time ebbs at the willingness to stay interested. Several times I reached for the fast-forward button on my non-existent remote control and alongside screen seven at the Manchester Odeon there is a fire exit which I had not noticed during a screening of 30 Days Of Night but was now not only apparent but inviting. The beautiful Lena Headey plays Gina McVey, a radiologist who is caught up in a car crash and recovers in hospital physically intact but with a question mark on how the trauma might have affected her mind. Her chipper French boyfriend Stephan (Melvil Poupaud) meanwhile appears to have lost his personality and even his own pet dog growls at him. She is convinced that a supernatural takeover has occurred but her psychologist Dr Zachman (Ulrich Thomsen) interprets it as her imagination and that she is still suffering from shock as a result of the accident. The viewer knows otherwise as the film has also been showing how our dark halves on the other side of the mirror world have been tiring of the darkness and are shattering the glass to enter our universe to take us over. Other members of Gina's family are among the first in danger though this activity could be taking place globally. It hints of the ghost plague of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo but fails to generate that film's uncanniness.

Gina's family is led by a father who has served nearly 30 years in the American Embassy and is due to retire though not to return to the United States as all the family he knows and love are here in England. Ambassador John McVey is played by Richard Jenkins who played the 'ghost' father in Six Feet Under and if he misses out on a full on personality swap here he had a memorable shot at it as Keanu Reeves' father in Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey when father and son accidentally transmigrate. Mirrors crash and the fully clothed imposters step out... in one shot the foot arrives on the floor a little too quickly and gently... supernatural they may be but this is a clear miscalculation by the filmmaker. A number of old tricks are trolleyed out including the reflection that loses its timing. In moments like that I forgot to be spooked and instead turned my thoughts fondly to Groucho and Harpo in Duck Soup.

Mirror-world terrors were also the theme of the 2003 Korean horror film Into The Mirror (recently remade) which was only a failure in that it was overlong so reducing its effectiveness. The are glimpses of the world on the other side of the mirror, a place that many have teased us with, and part of my frustration may be my own teenage imagining (in a speculative script) of such a domain which no-one has yet to match. The Broken's low budget does not open itself up to an examination of that outré� domain... and its one big set-piece is the car crash, tellingly, repeatedly returned to in flashbacks and memories. The shots are impressive, the impact disastrous. I confess to being baffled by the shot of Headey striking the airbag as the Cherokee crumples on the outside and exactly how the effect was achieved... looking very much in-camera and yet impossibly so.

Too many films charge at you with nothing of real content and we want films that are delivered at a more deliberate pace, but if a film is going to slow down it should only do so if it has something to show us. Prolongation is the order of the day, Ellis having failed to provide enough story. Each shot should count in a film. The film ends on an unnecessarily long shot of Gina driving. It speaks of the trundling aimlessness of the film, going nowhere, more as a result of the composer, the writer and director ill-equipped for filling a feature length, though an interesting story and twist (albeit a predictable twist when there is nothing else to occupy one, and straight out of Angel Heart, of course) reside and could have become so much more. Like Marc Evans' Trauma and Jon Fawcett's The Dark it is amongst the drabbest of British horror film experiences that I have had the misfortune to forbear in a cinema setting.
The Broken

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