<<Preface>> This is a first viewing for me.
Many of you know Lena Headey without knowing Lena Heady, who has been starring for the last several years as Sarah Connor in Fox’s TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Like many actors throughout the grand life of cinema, audiences know a face, or a performance, but can’t remember a name. I think for some, Lena Headey is one such actor. Gifted, and absolutely stunning, Headey can be seen in box office phenom Frank Miller’s 300, and indie fave Imagine Me and You, Headey’s resume boasts a list of powerful, drama-driven films. That’s why seeing her as the lead in a horror film, The Broken, may be a bit of a departure. But for me, both a horror film and Headey fan, it’s a welcome opportunity to see the actress in a new genre.
Heady stars as Gina McVey, a radiologist residing in London. The opening sequences are drawn out to give you a sense of the space in which Gina lives – her everyday routine, her mannerisms. Slow going, certainly, but paced perhaps to give you a clear sense of the character and her environs. The credits themselves are not noteworthy, which is disappointing, but, I never disapprove of cutting to the chase.
Soon enough, we’re introduced to Gina’s father, John (played by fantastic character actor Richard Jenkins), who works at the American Embassy when Gina and her siblings and their significant others throw him a surprise birthday party. Jenkins, who has been around (and around again), is already superb – telling a disgusting story about personal lubricant and super glue over candle light and wine. First cheap horror film gag happens when a large mirror on the wall next to the group shatters, without warning, causing everyone onscreen (and a few of us, offscreen) to jump.
Admittedly, I’m already tired of the relationship between Gina and her boyfriend, Stefan (played by Melvil Poupaud), in the moments that follow the birthday party as they sit in her car trying to decide whether or not to spend the night together. As an excuse for not staying, Gina says “a girl’s got to have clean underwear.” Obviously, their relationship is strained. Personally, I think Stefan gives her the creeps as much as he gives me the creeps – their onscreen chemistry is off from the moment you see them together.
Well, I’m getting a little worried at this point — writer/director Sean Ellis has started pulling out cheap horror film gags right and left. Mirrors are shattering everywhere, doors are being slammed open, loud noises, etc. I’m not a big fan of this kind of audience manipulation unless it’s integral to the plot. What’s more, when Gina spots her doppelganger (this is the film’s moment of truth, since it’s entire purpose is to draw us in with this one event), Ellis is very conservative with what he gives the audience. We’ve heard off-handed comments sprinkled throughout the film up until this point from Gina’s coworkers that “oh, I thought I just saw you leave,” but these comments are without any kind of real scope if you have no idea about the film’s premise. Gina, follows her doppelganger into the Pembridge House parking garage, up several floors, and into an apartment where she sees a photo of her father and herself. Right about now I’d be thinking “WTF?” as well. So, of course, when she slams her red Jeep head first into another vehicle I guess you can understand her discombobulation. So far – the car crash, with the rumpling of metal and breaking glass, is the scariest thing in this film.
By the way – needle alert. During the ER scene, you’re in for a few more cheap horror gags, so if you’re squeamish at all you may want to look away for a bit.
When she wakes up in hospital, Gina tells the doctors she has no real memory of the crash (although we are shown in flashes that she is still thinking about seeing her doppelganger). While her father sits beside her, Gina’s doctor comes in to give her his prognosis and to recommend that while she is suffering from only a few bruises, cuts, and a concussion, that she should seek out some psychological help to deal with the mental scars of the accident. Certainly, I’m not a doctor but I concur, especially as fragments from her car accident are replayed again, in excruciatingly slow motion. The crash is gorgeous, and as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of slow-motion camera work. In this particular case, the crash is representative of a different kind of fracture.
Upon her release the following day, Gina and Stefan regard each other guardedly. I want to say I’m sorry about this, but I’m not really — her boyfriend gives me the creeps. At this stage in the game, I have to assume writer/director Ellis wants me to feel as though Stefan can’t be trusted. From where I sit: Stefan is a scary, shifty, dodgy space filler. Like many films, it’s as if a strong leading woman cannot fill the space by themselves, but instead require a man to seal the gaps around her. Of course, some of us know this is utter nonsense, but there is little evidence to support that any major film company in the UK or the US is going to start making films with strong leading women sans supporting man anytime soon. So, until such time, let’s hope something happens to Stefan…quickly.
At home, she’s haunted by memories of the crash. Fragments return to her thoughts and dreams again and again, creating a rift between what she remembers and what she’s actually experienced. When the nightmares begin, Gina becomes convinced that Stefan is not her boyfriend. She shares this concern with her therapist who suggests she return to hospital for further testing – after all, when one labors under the belief that someone close to them has been replaced by an identical looking impostor, it usually means their nut has, in some way, been cracked. That’s right, it’s possible that Gina is suffering from an incredibly rare disorder referred to as “Capgras syndrome.”
One of my favorite scenes in the film occurs when Gina ventures to the auto shop where her totally mangled Jeep has been towed. Among the rabble of so many car wrecks, she finds her Jeep…only, it doesn’t look as bad as she (or we) remember. The windshield, shown from so many angles as being completely shattered, is intact. Only the front right fender and panel are crumpled. Gina opens the door and sits down in the driver’s seat. Next to her on the floor, she finds the photograph of her and her father — a memento stolen from the doppelganger’s apartment.
It’s not just Gina. It’s happening to other people as well. John’s secretary asks him why he didn’t recognize her in the street earlier that afternoon. Only, John hasn’t been out of his office all day. He doesn’t remember running into her on the street. He looks as confused as you probably do right now. If you’re like me, you probably realize this film is running the risk of turning into The Body Snatchers, only with broken mirrors, car crashes, and much more nudity.
It isn’t until Gina’s brother Daniel’s girflriend Kate (I think that’s the relationship, after all there have been a lot of character non-introductions thus far) is “replaced” that you realize you are watching a series of events occur – not the unfolding random insanity of a car crash victim. Although, in the tube station scene where Gina risks her life to pull the crumpled photo she’s taken from her doppelganger’s apartment from the train tracks, you will think she’s a bit “off” in the head. When Gina shares her theory with her father, showing him the photo, he is quick to allay her fears by pointing out that maybe the man in the photo isn’t him. After all, despite the fact that it’s her only “evidence” of the existence of her doppelganger, the face of her father has been all but erased from creases, folds, and scratches.
Back at home, Gina ventures once more to the attic of Stefan’s apartment to locate the source of a leak above his bathtub. There, she finds something disturbing, but altogether unsurprising <<SPOILER ALERT go to the final word if you don’t want to know how the film ends>> Stefan’s body. She quickly phones her father, because even though she’s smart enough to be a radiologist, she can’t figure out what to do without first consulting a man. But it’s too late. Doppelgangers are everywhere.
Run, Gina! Run! Run through the wet streets of London in the middle of night, with twinkling lights around you, reflecting like large, smeared splotches of paint in the puddles below your feet. Run until you find another phone booth where you can call another man and ask for help. Gah! You’re killing me. I’m sorry, but when I saw Lena Headey was in this film, I thought she would bring to it all of that inner strength I’ve come to see reflected in the roles she chooses to take on – but this. This is getting out of hand. There’s still hope, though. As things begin to unravel for other characters, or “Gina Satellites” as I like to think of them, we may see her take things into her own hands.
She decides to return to the doppelgangers apartment, and wiles her way in by telling the doorman she’s lost her keys. Inside, she finds her doppelganger dead, with her head in plastic bag, on the floor of the bathroom. But, through a series of flashes, we see the truth of the matter. It is not the body of her doppelganger on the floor, but her own. She is the doppelganger. She’s the replacement. She’s the one who has killed Gina who lays dead on the floor.
Gasp. Didn’t see that one coming, or did you? If you did, then perhaps you’re already asking yourself the next question — why? To what end? Well, that’s where you’re out of luck, because The Broken leaves this question ultimately unanswered. Existential bs like this is always unsatisfying and leaves me feeling the need to watch the film over and again, carefully picking through the rubble for the bits I might have missed along the way.
The final word: while The Broken is riddled with some cheap gags to get your blood pumping and your mind thinking you’re taking in a horror film (you’re actually not – this is no where near a horror film), the film’s true strength comes in the slow psychological unravelling of it’s characters. There are some worthy cinematic moments throughout. In the end, you’ll probably either want to watch the film again to fill in the gaps, or fill out a form when you get to heaven asking for these two hours of your life back. Either way, don’t miss Headey’s strong performance.