Face your fears.
It's hard to believe that the third annual After Dark Horrorfest movies are already being released by Lionsgate on DVD. The yearly collection of "8 Films To Die For" has become a perennial favorite, offering horror fans particularly visceral independent fright flicks (and admittedly some duds too) in a festival presentation. March 31 2009 saw the most recent octet of films arrive in stores, and this time Lionsgate provides some rather nice art in the form of lenticular slipcovers.
The Broken, written and directed by Sean Ellis, is an interesting entry in this year's Horrorfest. Very reminiscent of last year's Artifacts and the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the film is a study in paranoia, as the lead character is confronted with a cruel doppelganger interested in assuming her identity.
In this go-round, the heroine is named Gina McVey, a radiologist in London. Life is good for Gina. She has a professional job, a successful boyfriend, and a kind father who is close to retirement. Strange things begin to happen to Gina, however. A scan is reversed at work. A giant mirror inexplicably cracks apart during her father's surprise birthday party. And then, she sees herself driving in a car while on a sidewalk. This sets into motion a chain of bizarre events that threatens not only her but also her extended family.
What The Broken lacks in originality is more than compensated for in its well-developed paranoid mood and nice cinematography. Without spoiling too much, this is a surprisingly effective exercise in fear, with strong and smart characters confronted by their darker selves - literally. Many shots are well-composed, and London is captured in a brilliantly creepy manner. The centerpiece shot is a car collision that's captured effectively and shown from several vantage points throughout the film. Sean Ellis, if this movie is any indication, seems to be a promising screenwriter and director.
Ellis's work is helped out by good performances. Gina is played very well by Lena Headey (300). Gina is the best type of horror film heroine: she's smart and resourceful in addition to being beautiful. Headey's supporting cast are equally strong, with Richard Jenkins most notable as her father - in a "serious" version of a paternal character he played in the recent comedy Step Brothers.
The Broken ends satisfactorily - but it doesn't answer all the questions the film raises. This didn't bother me, as the conclusion seems fitting given the movie's internal logic, though I'd imagine it might frustrate some viewers. (Artifacts ends in a similar manner.) The one thing that did bother me was a murder scene of one of the secondary characters. The Broken is a psychological suspense film whose spell is broken during this one garish and over-the-top bloody kill that didn't seem warranted. Still, The Broken is a creepy exercise in literal identity theft - with a fitting surprise conclusion. Highly recommended.
One of DVD Talk's readers started a discussion thread in the forums about Lionsgate's release of The Broken here. As members "cbtaber" and "asianxcore" correctly point out, Lionsgate - for some reason - crops the majority of this movie to a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, with only the opening credits in its accurate 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Why they did this is anyone's guess; frustratingly, it isn't the only time they've pulled this trick out of their hats, as Repo! The Genetic Opera demonstrates. In any case, the widescreen image is anamorphic and doesn't look bad at all with its dark compositions and cold blue color schemes.
The lone audio track is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 affair that efficiently does its job. Dialogue is always clear. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
No fewer than eight(!) trailers and ads precede the main menu: The Haunting in Connecticut, Crank 2: High Voltage, After Dark Horrorfest: 8 Films To Die For III, Punisher: War Zone, The Transporter 3, Weapons, The Midnight Meat Train, and Saw V. There doesn't seem to be a link to these in the menu system, however.
The other extra on this disc is Miss Horrorfest Webisodes (57:45), a collection of fan-produced videos for the Horrorfest. While it's nice to have an hour of extras, it would have been even nicer to have an extra devoted to The Broken itself. I, for one, would have liked to have heard either Sean Ellis or Lena Headey provide a commentary track. Oh well.
Despite some qualms with the DVD itself (the lack of feature-related extras and aspect ratio issues), I'm going with a highly recommended rating for The Broken. It's a suspenseful exercise in paranoia and doppelgangers reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and last year's Artifacts that's effectively made.