Directed by Directed by Sean Ellis, 2008. Starring Lena Headey, Ulrich Thomsen, Melvin Poupaud, Michelle Duncan, Asier Newman, Richard Jenkins. 93 minutes.
A radiologist, living in London, finds her world turning upside-down when she encounters a woman who looks exactly like her, driving her car…
I liked The Broken. It’s got a strong cast, led by Lena Headey of The Sarah Connor Chronicles and anchored by Richard Jenkins of Six Feet Under and the upcoming remake of Let the Right One In. Visually, it’s beautiful: writer/director Sean Ellis has a great eye for striking images. I don’t know how to describe it; I’m really bad at describing images, so you’ll just have to Google some screencaps, or check the movie out for yourself. Unlike a lot of the current crop of young and young-ish directors (Ellis is 40 but The Broken is only his second feature) he doesn’t just point the camera at something and hope the editing covers up the artlessness. (Not going to name any names here…actually, yes I am. Michael Bay.) He’s got a great aesthetic sense, and I’m looking forward to following his career.
So, overall: The Broken has a good beat and I can dance to it. However: problem, mainly the script.
I went into it knowing very little about the storyline—what I wrote for the Premise is just about the extent of it—so I didn’t really have any idea of what to expect. I was hoping for a sort of Kafaesque nightmare kind of thing, or something along the lines of Harlan Ellison’s story “Shatterday.” (If you’ve never read “Shatterday,” you need to. It’s awesome.) I’m not going to reveal too much about what’s going on, because I honestly feel that this is the sort of movie where people will appreciate it more if they don’t know much about it. Suffice it to say that the explanation for the doppelgänger is a bit more rooted in horror conventions and genre than I had thought it might be. I should have expected this; it’s an After Dark Horrorfest selection. The After Dark movies I’ve seen have often used tropes cleverly (Wicked Little Things) and even on one occasion successfully subverted tropes (The Hamiltons) but the tropes are always there, in my experience. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s more conventional than I had expected and indeed hoped for.
(I spent much of the first two acts wondering what attracted After Dark to The Broken, and then a specific event occurred; not going to give much away, but it involves Michelle Duncan—Lady Isobel from Doctor Who 2.02, “Tooth and Claw”—in the shower. When that happened, I thought, “Yeah, that’s why they picked it.” And, no, it’s not just the nudity.)
There’s quite a bit of padding—the lead character is involved in an automobile crash early on in the film, but she doesn’t have any memory of it. However, despite her amnesia, the film flashes back to the crash at least half a dozen times, to the point where it feels like we’re reprising the accident every five to ten minutes. This makes The Broken feel a bit like a short film spread out to feature length (which is exactly what happened with Ellis’s debut feature, Cashback).
The dialogue works and characterization’s fairly deft, there’s a few things that perhaps don’t count as full-fledged logical flaws, but they’re definitely things that don’t make sense to me. (In particular, I don’t understand why the doppelgänger isn’t more direct in carrying out its agenda.)
However, these are routine things. They don’t call undue attention to themselves, they don’t break the story, and there aren’t too many of them, so for the most part I can get past them. However, The Broken does have an issue that I think a good number of people are going to have a hard time with. It didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the film, but looking around the tubes at other reviews (I was utterly stumped at how to approach this post; I was almost to the point where I was going to plagiarize Arrow in the Head’s review), my experience seems to be a bit of a rarity.
Here’s a vague spoiler: The Broken has an OMG shock twist!!! towards the end. (Actually, the spoiler might not be all that vague; I’m guessing that at least 10% of the people who will ever read this review will immediately successfully guess what the twist is, simply by knowing that there is one.) What you think of this twist—whether you think it’s clever or stupid—is likely to inform your overall opinion of the film.
Brad “MrDisgusting” Miska reviewed The Broken for Bloody Disgusting; he hated the twist—it seems to have ruined the ending for him—and he spends a good chunk of his review complaining about it, even though the review is favorable overall (7 out of 10). Personally, I thought the twist was okay. I didn’t hate it; it didn’t ruin the movie, or even the end of the movie, for me. On the contrary: for the most part it made sense and I felt it was handled reasonably well. On the other hand, while I didn’t see it coming (I rarely do; I saw The Sixth Sense with a group of four people, and I was genuinely surprised when the reveal came. My three friends, on the other hand, all claimed to have figured it out within the film’s first half-hour) it didn’t blow my mind or anything. In all honesty, it didn’t make the movie better. I can see how the film might have ended if the twist wasn’t there; assuming that Ellis and I are simpatico, I would still score it three stars. It would have been a different movie, but not drastically so.
What I’m trying to demonstrate here is that twists, particularly OMG shock twists!!! that come towards the end of a movie (or any narrative work) and significantly change the nature of everything that has happened up to that point can be risky. Certainly twists run the risk of alienating certain segments of the audience, particularly when they make no sense, break the plot (as Miska seems to believe is the case with The Broken), or are patently obvious (as one of my friends claims is the case with The Sixth Sense). And I’m not advocating playing it safe, especially with horror. If the twist is essential, as it is with Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels or with Lost, then the twist needs to go in.
The twist in The Broken doesn’t seem to me to be particularly essential. Maybe it is and I just don’t get it. But it seems to me to be the sort of thing that was thrown into the film because while the requirements of the story do not mandate an OMG shock twist!!!, the requirements of the formula do. (Does that make sense? It’s the best way I can think of to get the idea across.) I need to go back to those six words: it doesn’t make the movie better. In fact, if you’re Brad Miska it makes the movie worse. I don’t entirely agree with him…but I do sympathize.
Plus, if you’re considering building your reputation on making movies with OMG shock twists!!!, you might want to examine M. Night Shyamalan’s career trajectory, and then reconsider.