From 2006 to 2010, After Dark Films has distributed a yearly series of 8 Films To Die For. Their initial marketing campaign was this:
Very clever. But...
...the fact of the matter is that a number of these films were not released in theaters because they were too graphic, too disturbing, or too shocking but simply because they were too bad to secure distribution.
I'm not trying to be a snarky dick about this. I'm sure a lot of the people involved did their very best to make the best film they could. But I also know that there are a lot of people out there, who don't have any real interest in the genre, who think that cranking out a horror film is merely a quick way to make a buck.
But even though a majority of the 8 Films To Die For selections are pretty bad, there are a few hat are under-appreciated gems.
Lake Mungo is one, and a film that I will discuss sometime this month.
The one I want to talk about today is Sean Ellis' The Broken.
Now, today's post might be in defensive mode a bit. The film is not a classic, a blockbuster film, or even a cult favorite. A lot of horror fans I know have never even heard of it.
But it's one of my favorites, and I feel compelled to defend it.
Director Sean Ellis started out as a still photographer, and this background is evident in the look of his films. The images are rich, beautifully lit and composed -- and due in no small part from the work of cinematographer Angus Hudson, who shot The Broken, as well as Ellis' previous film Cashback.
The technical merits of the film are a big deal to me. While I think the premise and plot has been unfairly maligned, there's no question that The Broken has a look that films films could only wish for. In fact, Hudson won the Best Cinematography Award for the film at the Stiges International Film Festival.
The score by Guy Farley is a criminally unheralded piece of work, and one of the greatest horror film compositions I have ever heard. Unfortunately (and inexplicably -- come on La-La Land Records, I'm looking at you to do a solid here), it has never received an official release, and the copy I have (and listen to often when I'm writing) is from a promotional release that I found online.
I feel I may be playing the wrong hand here by citing the technical craft as evidence of how good I think the film is, letting it play second fiddle to the story, but I am blown away by the execution of the film. I'm not saying that style should absolve the sins of substance by any means, but I will readily admit that if a film looks and sounds like shit, it takes me right out of the experience.
Because I think that the look, sound, and Ellis' direction creates a pacing and tone that is enviable.
Plus, the cast is top-notch, fronted by Lena Headley and Richard Jenkins. Their performances draw you in, adding the depth and vibrance you would expect from actors of their caliber.
Another reason I may be putting off the story part is because I don't want to spoil it. As I said, this is not a hugely well-known film, and I'm not discussing plot points or premise of a film that is common knowledge. Hell, even people that have never seen Psycho know that Norman is the killer -- because the film and its characters are just part of popular culture.
What I will say is this --
The Broken is blood relation to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It is a film about doppelgangers. A lot of the criticisms and bad reviews for the film cite that there is no explanation for what is happening.
But why does there have to be?
Traditionally in horror films, there is some explanation about what is happening. The stock scientist or doctor character fills us in, sometimes taking us by the proverbial hand and leading us through the whys and the whats. I admit that they often are necessary. Some movie plots depend on them to find the thing that will defeat the monster.
And sometimes they exist to navigate controversial issues of the time in a censor-friendly way. An argument could be made that, in Psycho, the character of Dr. Richmond is there not only to explain Norman's insanity, but to lead the viewers away from the deep psychosexual subtext of the movie, and even from the material's inspiration, that of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein (who also inspired The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Considering what a big deal it was that Psycho was the first movie to actually show a toilet onscreen (apparently because movie people don't have bodily functions), having any viewers come to any conclusions regarding Norman of too sexual a nature would have blown too many a brain valve of a 1960 moviegoer.
But, again (as I too often do), I digress...
Regarding the lack of explanation for The Broken, consider this: Imagine if you lived in a Invasion of the Body Snatchers reality. What if your town -- hell, what if your block was the epicenter of what would become a worldwide problem. Day ONE of the invasion. You're not hearing about it happening over there in Minneapolis or Moscow, thousands of miles away -- it's happening two houses down. Could you assume that it could happen to you before you even knew what hit you (that's a shitload of yous in that sentence, I know). Because if that were true, then there's no explanation or happy ending for you. On that small of a scale, you're part of the problem before people are even aware there's a need for a solution.
Yet another film without a happy ending, and I love it.
Sadly, the film is no longer available on Netflix Streaming, so if you want to check out the movie (and it should be painfully obvious that I suggest you do), it is available for rental or purchase on iTunes. Skip the DVD release. If you end up with one, take it out of the case and use it for a coaster. The film was shot in widescreen 2:35:1, and the DVD is pan and scan crap. Now, that may sound like an exceedingly geeky criticism, but a geek I am. The Blu-ray is an 8 Films to Die For Double-Feature, paired inexplicably with Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations (which was fucking news to me, because I didn't even realize there was a part 2 of the franchise. I never even saw the first one. An Aston Kutcher movie? No fucking thanks). So it's a bit of a yin and yang release, with one of the films being what, in my humble opinion, I consider to be pretty damn good -- and the other, not so much.