A nameless man (Eric Colvin) is a survivalist living deep in the midst of a seemingly never-ending wood. Seeking a slave to assist his day-to-day work, he abducts women & tries to systematically “break” them until they succumb to his will. His latest victim is Hope (Nadja Brand), a young single mother who is desperately concerned about her daughter. The man’s cruel & heartless desire to break Hope is exceeded only by her resilience & the depth of her desire to escape his clutches & find her child. So begins a tense, vicious & relentless game of wits as the two are pitted against each other, a collision which can only end very badly for one or both of them.
Opening with a queasy, gory & unsettling montage over the opening credits, ‘Broken’ initially looks like its going to be a rural re-working of ‘Saw’, with an aggressor placing his victims into elaborate set-ups which test their reserves & desire for life at whatever cost – notably in the memorable sequence where a woman is tied round the neck to a tree, her only means of escape a razorblade sewn inside her stomach, an intestine-strewn corpse similarly hung around the tree opposite. But after this impressively nasty sequence has drawn the horror-hungry crowd in, the film changes tack somewhat, & for the rest of the film it’s psychological cruelty that takes prominence over the physical – although for sure there are more than enough moments of startling nastiness to keep genre fans more than satisfied.
Director Adam Mason has made a couple of earlier low-budget horror efforts, although reaction to ‘The 13th Sign’ & ‘Dust’ were, to put it nicely, somewhat mixed. Here co-directing with first-timer Simon Boyes he has made a huge leap forward, using a lengthy 18-month shoot with a tight budget (~£500,000) but a lot of passion. Originally titled ‘Heart Eater’ (a somewhat misleading title, since there’s no actual heart-eating going on), perhaps the most disappointing thing about ‘Broken’ is it’s rather bland title (a quick check on IMDB reveals four other projects using the same title in 2005/6), although it should be noted that a lot does get broken in the film – psychologically & physically.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the film is the sheer originality of its concept. Sure, men capturing & torturing women has been shown on screen countless times, but typically the motivation is murder or sexual gratification (or both). I can’t think of another film where someone is captured & tortured in order to gain psychological control over them, in order for them to become a slave – washing dishes, mending clothes, tending to the vegetable patch, that kind of thing. More than just being a cool & unusual concept, I’m sure this is also saying something non too savoury about archaic male-dominated relationships – the “a women’s place is the kitchen” attitude.
But whilst the film may boast what is surely one of the most unapologetically misogynistic characters ever to have graced the silver screen, it’s to the films immense credit that it doesn’t share his attitude. The film centres very much on the character of Hope, being told from her perspective she’s in every scene, the camera rarely leaving her. Rather than celebrating her degradation & asking the audience to take pleasure in her pain, we go through the ordeal with her & it’s properly unsettling & painful. It’s a demanding role for an actress, but Nadja Brand (Aka Nadja Brand-Mason, whose only other credits are Adam Mason’s earlier films) proves up to the task delivering a strong, controlled performance with huge depths of resilience. She’s matched with a strong turn by Eric Colvin (another Mason regular), who somehow manages to humanise a fundamentally unlikeable character, & it’s the intriguing dynamic between the two leads & their onscreen chemistry that really makes the film work.
Having seen some stills on the official website, I was expecting the film to deliver something a bit special on the visual side, despite the meagre budget. Whilst the sharp photography & lack of extravagant camera moves makes the film occasionally look like a TV movie, the use of lighting within the frame is consistently inventive & sufficiently well controlled to make the best of the available resources. The result is a film that looks considerably better than many other similar low-budget independent horror films. Backed by an impressive score by Gavin Miller, the result is a stylish treat that puts some rather more expensive films in the shade.
‘Broken’ is one of the most impressive low budget independent horrors I’ve come across in a while, boasting a strong concept, great performances, & genuine style. Despite boasting a shattering conclusion, what lingers longest in the memory is the films’ overriding bleakness, punctuated with moments of stark brutality. It’s unusual, cruel, captivating & startlingly memorable – a real treat for a genre-savvy audience looking for something more demanding & unusual than the typical Hollywood fare.