REVIEW: The Brøken [2008]

“We’ll have a chat about those fragments”

It takes some guts and talent to take your Oscar nominated short film and convert it to a full length feature, let alone allow that feature length debut be as good as it is. I know that my love for Sean Ellis’ Cashback may be a bit much—the story isn’t the deepest, the script not the most profound—but the visuals are stunning and the construction inventive. Thus I was in great anticipation for his sophomore effort, the horror film The Brøken. Expectations were not the highest as the film did need the After Dark crew to pick up distribution to give it a limited run in theatres last Halloween, but I was looking forward to creepiness and suspense. Upon my viewing, opinions are mixed. This is an ambitious undertaking, no question, but I can’t shake the feeling that its 88-minute runtime might have been better served as a short subject. Frankly, the film feels as though it’s already an expanded version of a small scale success story, unfortunately, this somewhat fractured tale starts was created at a length that oversteps its weight.

The story is very intriguing and chilling in its been-done-before way. A mirror breaks during the course of a surprise birthday party for the patriarch of the McVey family, locking the five people in attendance into a world of confusion and darkness. Their evil doppelgangers from the mirror world have caught a glimpse of them all and are looking to enter our world by taking over their identities. Each shattering sound we hear becomes the entrance of a villainous version of our leads, looking for blood and a spot among humans. The ideas that a plot like this can conjure up are many, but Ellis decides to keep it all subtle and interior, making us guess throughout the duration about whether what we are seeing is real or just happening in lead Gina McVey’s injured mind. We as an audience can sense the change in characters’ actions, making us believe they have been replaced, yet we see them all through the eyes of Gina, post death-defying car collision. So, until the end, the whole film exists as a giant question, an enigma consisting of either psychological mutations or physical replacement, the latter of which means murder of the true person as a result.

While this journey towards the revelation of Gina’s true self is intriguing and worth following through to the end, the conclusion brings with it a contradiction of feelings. The direction it all goes towards is fantastic, definitely the correct choice, however, there is something lacking. No, it’s not the fact that Ellis decides to leave many questions unanswered and the plot open-ended, it’s something else, something deeper. You begin to recall the stunning imagery used along with the clunky, overlong sequences of overhead city shots and repetition of the car crash at the center of it all. All those pieces start to feel like deflection from what was going on, filler to pad out the final revelation, which—in both lesser and greater films—would have been the mid-way point continuing on to the answers that are left here to our imagination. This is just one more reason why I wish The Brøken were a short. If those moments that work were distilled down and compacted into a 30-40 minute tale, ending on the chilling revelation, this thing would have been phenomenal. As it is now, the length allows us to figure out the ending too early, ruining the suspense. The cloud lifts from Gina too slowly, giving us time to lose interest and therefore not be hit as hard by the blow it leads to. Rather then be stunned, we want more, a conclusion to justify the time we spent.

I feel as though this could have been cast with anyone and been okay. I’m a big fan of Lena Headey, but I don’t think her acting expertise necessarily brings anything to the table. This is not her fault, though, she plays a character in Gina that walks around as in a fog for the most part, a semi-amnesiac trying to figure out what happened before her accident and why those around her seem menacingly different from the loved ones she knows. I enjoyed both Asier Newman and Michelle Duncan as her brother and his girlfriend, both actors I’ve never seen before, proving that name recognition wasn’t an important motive, although I’m sure Headey’s involvement helped get the film financed. Only Richard Jenkins seems to add something more to his character. You see the grief and fatigue of a father who has been raising two children, by himself in a foreign land, for the past fifteen years after his wife had passed on.

Again, though, what really stand out with The Brøken are the visuals. Sean Ellis has a creative eye and he puts it to good use. Whereas he created something and then expanded upon it with Cashback, here he delves right into the full show, possibly prematurely. With every stunning shot comes a clunky passage that could have been improved or excised, padding that only serves to lose the audience rather than draw them in. A few of the angles and compositions are truly wonderful and some sequences disturbing to great effect. One moment of Melvil Poupaud as Stefan, altering his face into that of a demonic darkness, is memorable and a short shot of the eerily lit “room” behind Duncan’s hallway mirror is atmospherically gorgeous. Part of me wishes to have seen more of these glimpses into the parallel dimension, but part of me likes that it stayed away from using too much in lieu of sticking to Headey’s broken mind. That division really sums up my experience, though. This film has something special inside of it; sadly there is too much covering to allow it to really be a success.

The Brøken 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

[1] Lena Headey stars as Gina McVey in After Dark Films’ The Broken (2009) Copyright © After Dark Films. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Michelle Duncan stars as Kate Coleman in After Dark Films’ The Broken (2009) Copyright © After Dark Films. All Rights Reserved.


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