Saturday, 16 March 2013



Think you’ve got problems with the neighbours? Think again.
First-time film director Rufus Norris explores a dystopian landscape of a decaying cul-de-sac in North London suburbia.

‘Skunk’ (Eloise Lawrence) has type-one diabetes. She is always going to be a little different from the others kids, and her tomboyish outset makes little effort to blend her in with the school crowd. She runs around seeking adventures and secret hideouts with her brother, and innocently fantasizes about her babysitter’s boyfriend and teacher (Cillian Murphy). Above all, she’s dependent and can certainly hold her own against the neighbourhood bullies that pick on her for being a bit ‘odd’.

But her life is changed forever as a result of a neighbour’s lie which spirals a series of troubling events. When neighbour Rick (Roberts Emms)- a kind-hearted but backward teenager- is vindictively accused of raping a girl who lives opposite them, the girl’s father Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear) outbreaks a violent attack on the boy- an attack which Rick and on-looking friend Skunk do not understand or comprehend.  

The rest of the narrative interweaves Rick’s damaged mentality as a result of by his confused anger and undeserved guilt, with the complications of each life that is involved with the incident. Norris demonstrates the vicious circle of how victims of violence can become violent themselves and the cause of their own fate - how one unforgivable mistake can trigger a life threatening situation. 

The callousness of the Oswald family is the root of all evil, and each member takes part in spreading their roots to choke those that surround them. While Bob disregards help and insults any soul who knocks on his door, two of his daughters Saskia (Faye Daveney) and Sunrise (Martha Bryant) beat up those unwilling to hand over their pocket money at school. The trio’s performance is as sturdy as their character’s punches, and the thuggery couldn’t be more solidly delivered. 
Norris really hits home with his gritty depiction of rundown north London. For each kid, there is a mother or father that has fled, died or is in jail; for each loving parent, there are two that simply do not care. It’s an area where solace comes not from within the home, but in a desolate trailer park next to a junkyard. Escapism is a luxury that many do not have, and looking cautiously through their window at the harsh realities outside cannot hide them from what they have to face. But the setting is concentrated to one corner street- a provisional window view- and Norris avoids portraying a cynical generalisation of contemporary British society.

Despite the inevitable catastrophes unfolding as events escalate and mishaps occur when the wrong people cross path, the order and succinct delivery remains coherent and controlled, and it’s as utterly heart-rending as it is infuriating.

“Why do only bad things happen?” asks Skunk. You may sit there watching and wondering the same thing. But Broken isn’t all dark and decrepit and Norris injects a line of light and happiness that creeps in underneath the turmoil. The beauty lies in his depiction of the whims of childhood purity, ignorance, and frolicky fun that dances around the brutality and unkindness of the world around them. The humorous teasing and playfulness encountered within Skunk’s unconventional family is endearing and you can’t help but smile along with the games they play and the moments they share.  The respite encourages you to take pleasure in the film’s happy moments, despite incurring a feeling of guilt whilst doing so.

The father-daughter relationship between Skunk and her father (Tim Roth) is also an honest distraction from dejection and adds a layer of conventional emotion, something that isn’t apparent between any of the other characters. Her father’s visions of her as an older woman open up a dreamlike dimension that too resounds a feeling of hope and optimism.

Elouise Lawrence glows from the moment she skips onto the screen and pulls off a mature and gripping performance in her debut appearance. Lawrence naturally inherits the tomboyish look with ragged jeans and checked shirts, embodying a courageous, young character who wears a brave tough-front as well as sweetly succumbing to her youthful dependence with seamless ease.

The upbeat, poignant scores and instrumentals written by singer Damon Albarn wonderfully couples the picture and a rendition of Blur’s ‘colour’ will be sure to stay with you hours, if not days, after you leave the cinema. Every element created by Norris, Albarn and writer Mark O’Rowe work hand-in-hand to present the contrasting, underlying themes of life’s inner-beauty and outer-evil explored in Daniel Clay’s stunning debut novel.

VERDICT: A deeply distressing but beautifully moving coming-of-age drama. A powerful debut from Norris which both enrages and enchants in its strong, and stronger, moments.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013



The vampire movie, without the vampire

When you hear that Chan-wook Park is directing his first American film, and that the film is a psychological thriller, you may look up to the skies and say a little prayer to whoever persuaded him to embark on the west. You may pen in its release date into your diary. And underline it, several times. What you certainly wouldn’t do is even let it cross your mind that, even for a second, it will be anything less than you expect.

It’s been almost four years since Park left his unique stamp on the vampire genre with his refreshingly romantic vampire horror Thirst, and naturally the title of Stoker indicates that the director may be returning to the genre where he left off.
Following the sudden death of her father and best friend (Dermot Mulroney), India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself isolated in the family house with her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). When an uncle she never even knew existed comes knocking and invites himself to stay, India becomes suspicious of the mysterious stranger’s ulterior motives. Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) has a dark side, and instead of being repelled by him, she falls victim to his infatuating charm.

The assumption of vampirism is made almost certain when India is seen scurrying up a tree and her opening monologue reads “just as a flower doesn't choose its colour, so we don't choose what we are going to be.” But an hour into the movie, you become aware that the initial reference stands alone. Ah but wait, a tall, dark, handsome stranger with abnormal tendencies walks in to impart his teeth-baring habits… nope, just a murderous psycho with an obsession with strangling people with his belt. Charlie’s motive is largely neglected and we are never really encouraged to dig into his psychological state of mind, other than through a flashback to something disturbing he did as a young boy.

So there are no vampires and the dysfunctional family narrative seems more one-dimensional than you may have imagined. The credits roll and you think you’ve missed something. You haven’t. The clues are all there and it thrives on the constant second-guessing of what is going to happen- but then never does- and the apprehension of a twist that never really takes the audience by shock.

It’s at this point that you remember the Vengeance Trilogy creator did not write the screenplay.

Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller played it rather safe on his writing debut, and his depiction of the dysfunctional family doesn’t verge groundbreaking either. The disconnection between mother and daughter is conveyed with not a whole lot more than a handful of stiff, icy glares on the staircase and an over-stated mismatch in interests. While Kidman goes shopping, Wasikowska reads.

Wasikowska again transitions child to woman in a matter of minutes and her oddities are well-balanced against Kidman’s straight misdemeanour. But it’s the character of uncle Charlie that steals our attention away from their morbid grieving, and it is Goode’s mysterious obscurity and his ability to stir both India and Evelyn’s fascination, and ours too, that keeps us intrigued.

Time and time again it is Park’s aesthetic imagery that hones his deliverance of the symbolism to expose the plot’s metaphoric meanings. And he doesn’t disappoint here. In a series of intermissant revisits to the image of India and her father aiming shot at a deer, the acqusition of the 'hunter' is toyed with. His stylistic sequences of eloquent shots create an ambiguous and uncertain ambience, and the tension this arouses is kept strung tight right through to the climax.

As much as it is a relish to see his artistic style on the big screen, it is a tool used much less frequently than in his former works and we can only presume this was down to Park’s worries that it wouldn’t translate to an American audience. He would probably have been right.

VERDICT: The outcome is by no means spectacular, failing to triumph the director’s prior horror works, and it misses the depth of character analysis and an brutally revengeful plot that could have been delivered with Park’s screenwriting presence. But the suspension holds its own and the plot is duly engaging, even if it does appear insipidly straight-forward on reflection.