The Broken (2008)
By: Mr Intolerance on May 2, 2010  | 
Icon | Region 4, PAL | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 85 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Sean Ellis
Starring: Lena Headey, Ulrich Thomsen, Melvil Poupaud, Michelle Duncan, Asier Newman, Richard Jenkins
Screenplay: Sean Ellis
Country: UK
External Links
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During 2009's A Night Of Horror film festival, there was one film I was particularly excited to see on the big screen, and that film was Sean Ellis' The Broken, a subtle, eerie and unnerving UK horror film that riffed on (and began with an epigram from) Edgar Allan Poe's William Wilson, as well as being reminiscent of other literary works of the weird and macabre such as Hanns Heinz Ewers' Der Student Von Prague, ETA Hoffmann's Sylvesternacht and James Hogg's The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner and to round it all off, a healthy dose of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (I prefer the Kaufmann version, personally). Doppelgangers and mistaken identity – where would the world of horror be without them?

Gina (the very lovely to look at Lena Headey) is not having the most ordinary of days. Examining an X-ray at work she comes across a subject whose heart is located on the right side of the body – not unique, but rare ("One in a thousand") – almost like a mirror image of a person. Putting that to the back of her mind so as to enjoy the surprise birthday party she, her irritating French boyfriend Stefan, her brother Daniel and his vacuous girlfriend Kate are throwing for her father, things start getting weird when the large mirror in the dining room shatters for no readily explained reason. Seven years bad luck? But for whom? The weirdness gets weirder when Gina's looking at herself in the mirror brushing her teeth the next morning – she seems disturbed, but she'd be a lot more disturbed if she could see what the audience does: behind the mirror someone or something is watching Gina and mimicking her movements.

Gina goes to work, and back at her flat the mirror shatters and something in a nice pair of black patent stilettos comes through from elsewhere into our world. At work, one of Gina's co-workers tells her he thought he saw her leaving the building while she's obviously still there, and standing on a street corner, she watches herself drive past in her own Jeep Cherokee. Following herself home, Gina's disturbed to find evidence that the woman she's following who looks identical to her knows her father and rounds off the whole horrible experience by front-ending a minicab, and being hospitalised, having no idea who she is when she first wakes, and substantial memory loss (rather significantly, when asked by the counsellor she's been referred to about the crash, she states that she can only remember "fragments").

Broken mirrors are starting to feature prominently in the lives of Gina's nearest and dearest – at her father's work, at Stefan's apartment (and isn't he acting strange, these days?), and Gina is having recurrent visions of the crash despite having no conscious memory of it – not to mention some pretty disturbing dreams. And what exactly is causing that strange leak in Stefan's ceiling in the bathroom?

Lost among a welter of remarkably unsympathetic specialists trying to "help" her and totally convinced that Stefan isn't… well, Stefan, Gina tries to regain memory by going to have a look at what's left of her car, but this just gives her even more questions to solve. Almost as many questions to solve as there are people who think they're seeing people they know, but maybe are, and maybe aren't… I'm not being wilfully obscure here, it's just that on this, my fifth watching of this film, I'm seeing things I had not noticed before and more to the point layers of meaning that I hadn't grokked the first few times through. This makes it a neat experience watching the film again, but not an easy film to write about for fear of spoiling aspects of it. I'm trying my best, honest…

If An American Werewolf In London and Death Line taught us nothing else (and believe me, they did – they taught us plenty about werewolves and cannibals, respectively), they taught us that being down in the tube station at midnight is a scary thing. Gina gets to find that out as well, when she goes searching for a few answers from her dad. Talk about life and limb… With no joy there, she heads to Stefan's place, and that pesky leak catches her attention again, which is about the point where I have to leave you, synopsis-wise, because otherwise spoilers would abound. And believe me, with the final act of this film being what it is, that's the last thing you'd want. I just hope I've not given too much away as it is. Can I just add – the last act is a fucking rip-snorter.

The Broken pretty effectively mines the fear of losing your identity, and even worse the fear of someone assuming your identity. Imagine if someone stole your phone and texted random messages to people you knew, or hacked your e-mail/facebook/myspace account and did the same – pretty embarrassing at least, devastating and career or life threatening at worst. Now transpose that fear into someone physically rather than virtually assuming your identity – double-plus ungood, to say the least. Worse yet – imagine if you woke up one morning and you suddenly didn't know people who were intrinsic parts of your life and – and here's the real kicker – they didn't know you, or even worse, that they saw you as a threat and wanted you dead. It's that kind of psychological existential horror that's explored in The Broken, laced with a fair amount of the supernatural, topped up with Jean-Paul Sartre's famous dictum from No Exit: "Hell is other people."

All up, what you get here is a cold, bleak, comfortless film bordering on the clinical with its removal from any kind of human feeling. Even at the very beginning with Gina's father's surprise party you're looking at expressing love for someone through wanting to scare them, and his reaction to the situation is to swing at people with a golf club. Even when people are trying to save others, it's almost like they're doing so out of a feeling of their own desperation – saving others to validate or prove their own existence or worth. Fear or uncertainty, this movie seems to be saying, is the human condition, and it states it with intelligence, insight and a rather uncomfortable knowingness. And, as strange as this will sound given what I've just written – it's a good thing. The Broken rocks my world – I wish there were more horror films like this – it's very fucking clever and re-watches will provide even greater enjoyment of this extraordinary film.
The picture (rather unsurprisingly, given the age of the film) is pristine, practically crystalline, and beautifully shot, presented here in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced. There's a real elegance to the camerawork, and the generally muted colour palette works along with the prevailing darkness of the picture to enhance the darkness of the story.
Decidedly creepy. The Broken utilises silence as a weapon as much as the eerie score and the sound effects, and its generally quiet nature ups the ante in terms of fear and tension.
Extra Features
Trailers for The Box, the micro-budget blockbuster Paranormal Activity, and steampunk curio Franklyn. And that's it. This is a film that deserved better treatment, but sadly most international releases are the same.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The Broken succeeds where many modern horror films fail - it actually instils a sense of dread. Operating kind of like Kairo or A Tale Of Two Sisters, The Broken asks more questions than it ever answers, and its success comes from that fact, as well as the intelligence that powers this uneasy and unnerving film. Loose ends in the narrative (the whys and wherefores) are left for the audience to answer, and the film is all the stronger for it. The oneiric atmosphere, muted colours and sinister sound design render The Broken a pretty eerie experience as much as it's general sense of dislocation and its prevalent theme of isolation and the loss of identity. The sombre tone and deliberate pacing, as well as the general lack of "boo scares" and graphic violence (although some nasty there definitely is), probably means that The Broken will never achieve the popularity it deserves in this day and age, but personally, I can't recommend it enough - a top-shelf film, and one for fans of old school horror. I just wish it had a better release than this.

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