Megan Van Kerro
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22nd Aug 07
A single mother is kidnapped and forced to live as a slave of the evil Woodsman. Will she survive to see her daughter again?
Those of you familiar with the early work of co-director Adam Mason would be justified in approaching Broken with caution. His first couple of features, The 13th Sign and Dust were to put it simply, awful. I hated them, my friends hated them, heck, even Mason himself later confessed that he thinks they’re rubbish too. Now pause for a moment and forget everything you’ve heard about Adam Mason, because with his latest film he finally delivers an effective shocker that repays the faith of those who’ve stuck by him during his fledgling career.
As the ‘making of’ documentary on this disc illustrates, Broken was by no means an easy film to make. Disillusioned with the current demands of funding and financiers in the UK, Adam and collaborator Simon Boyes decided to go it alone and make something using the limited resources they had available to hand. Originally starting life as The Heart Eater, a tale of a bunch of teens being tortured in the woods, the story was stripped down and simplified until it became – for the most part – a two hander between the victim (Brand) and her keeper (Colvin).
The honed narrative actually suits the subject matter well; the only insight we have into Hope’s character before her ordeal is a brief dinner date with a potential suitor before she returns home to her daughter Jennifer and babysitter. That’s it – from here on in she’s in the Woodsman’s clutches, undergoing a series of grisly challenges until she’s earned the right to live as his companion deep in the woods.
Rather than complicate the film with subplots and motivations, Broken is all about the relationship between captive and captor. From the opening scenes we know that Hope is the only girl who has survived his trials (which involve being buried alive, and then having to unstitch a stomach wound to retrieve a razor blade in order to cut herself free) and it’s gripping watching the two of them interact and witnessing the battle of wits that occurs between them.
The decision to keep things simple and confined to one main location allows the filmmakers to spend time developing the main characters while really focusing on furthering their technical craft. Their successful foray into music videos in the interim period has clearly paid dividends; the framing of each scene and the camera movement is much more assured, as is the editing - the opening credits in particular creating a claustrophobic atmosphere of fear right from the get go, set to a menacing industrial score from Mortiis.
Where Mason's directorial skills have improved, so too have the acting skills of his leading lady. Once she's settled into her character, Nadja Brand gives a bold and brave performance in what must have been a difficult and challenging role to tackle. Opposite her, Eric Colvin plays the insane Woodsman equally well, always calm and quietly spoken - vulnerable even - not once descending into the clichéd raging madman so stereotypical of this type of character.
Whilst some critics might accuse the film of being misogynistic, it’s only the character of the nomadic Woodsman who is portrayed in this manner, not the filmmakers themselves. Our sympathies always lie with Hope throughout and it’s her iron-clad will and determination to survive – for the sake of her daughter – that is at the core of the film. At first she’s a typical scream-queen, terrified and afraid, but a steely resolve slowly kicks in and she soon makes it clear that she’s no longer scared of her master no matter what he does to her.
When the Woodsman brings another girl Holly (Stirling) into the camp this naturally disrupts the balance of their relationship, setting in motion a chain of events which - without spoiling things too much - climaxes with a real sucker punch. There's no denying that Broken is an unpleasant film (look out for the unflinchingly nasty leg crack) yet it never revels in its brutality the way that movies like Saw or Hostel are specifically calculated to do, therefore to tar it with the 'torture-porn' brush would be both lazy and unfair.
Of course, it's not perfect - to expect a Lazarus-like rise to glory would be way too much to expect. The lighting in particular is a bit of a disaster with shots switching from light to dark at will, belying the numerous reshoots that were made during filming. Whilst the bright lighting gives the scenes an eerie, almost supernatural quality, it ultimately distracts the viewers from the action on screen. There's also no getting away from that old movie curse which prevents protagonists from killing their foes at the earliest available opportunity, which nowadays just makes me scream in frustration.
With its limited scope, gruesome subject matter and bargain basement production values, Broken is unlikely to appeal to fans of Hollywood gloss. Yet for such a dedicated (2 year) shoot on a zero budget it marks a significant achievement, and like it or loathe it, it is compelling viewing and will spark debate. Whatever your own personal opinion, this film has got Adam Mason noticed and with his new film The Devil's Chair due to premiere at Toronto's prestigious Midnight Madness event, it seems that he's at last moving on the right path, battered but not broken.
Broken is available on DVD from Revolver in the UK and you can visit the film’s website at www.brokenmovie.co.uk.