High-concept horror is a rare thing. Most horror films focus on building dread over time and then reaching a scary and/or action packed ending, or they go for the jump out of your seat type of fright where things happen suddenly giving the audience a shock; those types of film are more like roller coasters despite whatever artistic content they may contain. There are a few thinking man’s horror films out there but the majority of studios, film-makers, and audiences find that intelligence and horror don’t tend to make good bedfellows. Of course, there are clever horror films but rarely does the genre go beyond that, perhaps because if the story deals with horrific situations then it can be better dealt with in a more traditional drama, or if the story is going for a supernatural slant then too much has to be accepted on faith for any highbrow thought to be able to accept what’s going on.
The Broken (2008) follows Gina McVey (played by Lena Headey; Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones), a radiologist working in central London as she goes about her business in her seemingly perfect life. She’s beautiful, well-dressed, has a boyfriend who’s a successful architect, she’s doing well enough at work to be able to afford a nice flat in London, her father works for the American ambassador (so I guess she has dual-citizenship lurking in a drawer somewhere, though with a name like McVey (regardless of the spelling) I’m not sure how welcome the family are back in the good old US of A), she has a brother who’s an artist who is living with a girl he loves, and all is right with the world. The only tragedy that seems to have befallen McVey is the death of her mother when Gina was about thirteen.
Gina’s Dad comes home one night to his empty house, as is his custom, and he attacks the decanter of whiskey as it’s his birthday and he’s all alone. Except he’s not. There’s someone else in the house prowling about, but it turns out to be his family setting him up for a scare as part of a surprise party they’re throwing for him. This little fright turns into a happy dinner spent with Daddy McVey’s kids and their partners, happy that is until a mirror that had been hit against during the “SURPRISE!” bit finally falls off the wall and shatters all over the gaff.
The next day, Gina gets a funny feeling at work, a feeling that is heighted when a colleague swears he just saw her leave the building for the night. Heading out herself to use a payphone outside the hospital, Gina gets the shock of her life when she sees herself drive by in her own car. Following the car into an underground car park she pursues the driver into an apartment where she finds a picture of herself and her Dad.
Gina drives away from the apartment in her Jeep after something apparently traumatic happened. She’s distracted, looking around her and in the rear view mirror to the point of distraction, right up to the moment when she has a head-on collision with a taxi. McVey is rushed to hospital but none of her injuries are serious, just bumps and bruises; the only thing worrying her doctors are the gaps in her memory right before the accident – from the time she encountered the look-alike up to going to the hospital. She remembers bits but nothing makes sense.
Once discharged from the hospital Gina goes to stay with her boyfriend but he seems like a changed man, radically different from the man she loved before her accident. He’s cold, distant, and slightly threatening to her and she confides this to a counsellor she’s seeing for her memory problems. He diagnoses a deeper trauma in her brain and recommends more tests. Unsure if what’s occurring is in her head or not, Gina’s fears grow as she investigates some strange occurrences around her boyfriend’s apartment and in the wider world. Finally she begins to remember what happened in her doppelgangers apartment, and so remembers the terrifying truth that’s threatening her whole family…
It’ll never heal if you don’t stop picking at it!
The Broken is an attempt at really serious horror. The concept behind the film is way out there and not something that you see too often outside of leftfield episodes of Star Trek. On top of this, The Broken also tries to be a clever movie, and there are times when this works but not enough to save the film from itself.
Gina McVey is the most neutral horror film character out there. Not once did I give a shit what was happening to her. In The Exorcist when the little girl Regan is going through the medical tests you feel sorry for her as it all seems to frighten her. On the other hand, in The Broken McVey gets her melon scanned and she’s told it’s possible that she’s got some rare brain disorder and I was all like “Good! Serves the snooty cow right!” Out of all the characters in the film, her Dad is the only sympathetic one on screen as he’s obviously still grieving the death of his wife after all these years and he loves his kids, so he’s OK. McVey’s brother and his girlfriend seem OK too, but they’re underdeveloped so it’s hard to give too much of shit about them.
As the “horror” unfolds the attempts at building dread don’t work as they nearly always go nowhere and are accompanied by repeating images and rehashes of scenes that have already been and gone more than once. When what’s happening is revealed to the audience the whole jig is up and there’s little point watching all the way to the end as what happened in the apartment before the crash is so obvious it’s funny. The biggest flaw with The Broken is not in trying to tell its little horror story but in trying to put in a twist as well. In fact, the film opens with a big Edgar Allan Poe quote on screen and from then on I jokingly threw out a raft of possible twists that were going to feature in the film (much like the scene in The IT Crowd where Douglas Reynholm tries to guess the twist at the end of a DVD he’s watching), sadly one of my guesses was bang on the mark – and this was ninety minutes before it was revealed.
Two Thumbs Down for The Broken.
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