Broken Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by BBD
Directed by Shaun Robert Smith
Written by Craig Conway, Shaun Robert Smith
2016, 98 minutes, Rated 15
Movie released on 24th October 2016
Morjana Aloui as Evie
Mel Raido as John
Craig Conway as Dougie
Patrick Toomey as Edward
If misery loves company, Evie and John are made for each other. He is a bitter tetraplegic – an independent punk musician having lost control of everything but his filthy mouth and drugs intake. She is his carer, a troubled young woman with a dark past and tormented soul. Together they will make each other utterly miserable – sometimes inadvertently, often not. Add to the pot a few hookers and his supremely awful friends, and what you have with Broken is a recipe for a very British disaster.
As Eastenders, This is England and the films of Ken Loach will tell you, no-one does abject misery quite like the Brits, and Shaun Robert Smith’s Broken is up there with our unhappiest. It’s a film which challenges you to openly hate on a tetraplegic guy – who is, to be fair, the worst – at the same time as making his position an utterly sympathetic one. Equal opportunities, everyone. The film opens with John screaming abuse at Evie, demanding she wipe his arse with a mop; a tentative flirtation with black comedy which never really takes hold afterwards. It uses this, the blackest of humour to reel the audience in, before taking it away and trapping us with awful John and the desperately depressed Evie.
Like its black comedy hook, there are enough genre trappings to make its horror qualification not a complete lie, but only barely so. Short bursts of fantasy in which Evie drowns John in the bathtub and sees visions of her dead abusive father up the creepy quotient, but still not so much that I would class Broken as a horror movie proper. It wasn’t until the last twenty minutes or so that I gave up waiting for the actual ghosts and let it settle in that Broken is actually a soap opera dressed up as a horror film. It’s a film which doesn’t even bother with subtext, forgoing its Babadook, VVitch or… whatever the It Follows demon was, in favour of a character who is struggling with his sudden loss of independence, and a woman still dealing with the trauma of her childhood. It’s a film with the confidence to admit that, hey, fatally miserable people taking their pain out on others is just as scary and traumatic as, uh, whatever the It Follows demon is or was. Worry not though; Chekhov’s Gun will come into play eventually.
The burn on this one is as slow as it comes, building up the mood and atmosphere until it becomes almost unbearable. Just as you think John might have come around to being a bit likeable, he’ll pull yet another Texas Chain Saw Massacre Franklin move, and his dickhead friend is even worse. While the unfolding story is inevitable, it’s not predictable, and (providing one can tolerate all of the British unhappiness) should keep audiences hooked through to the shocking climax.
All of its efforts would be for naught without a solid cast though, and thankfully, Broken has this in spades. Martyrs’ Morjana Alaoui is heartbreakingly sympathetic as Evie, while Mel Raido does a tremendous job of balancing John’s cruelty with an agonising pain one can sense hidden deep inside. Craig Conway (yes, the film's writer) as John’s loathsome friend, is almost too good, a unifying figure of hatred that makes John seem far more tolerable by comparison. At least he has an excuse.
All this, and not a mention of Broken’s score, which is perhaps the best thing about the entire film; evocative, cool and in stark contrast to its banal British setting, the soundtrack elevates the whole affair, somehow making it seem less glum and more cinematic in the process.
Slow, depressing and aggressive, Broken won’t be for everyone. It’s an emotional horror movie (think Possession, except less), the scares and dread coming from the characters and their treatment of each other, rather than any one particular outside force. It achieves what it sets out to do remarkably well, being a more troubling depiction of mental (and physical) not-wellness than the fumbled Lights Out or similar such chillers. It’s more than a little on-the-nose at times, but that’s just part and parcel of the subgenre – a Great British slap to the chops.