Based on writer and director Shaun Robert Smith’s own short film, Broken is a bleakly disturbing tale of despair without hope of redemption. John’s situation may be largely that of his own making, but the ferocious resentment he harbours is directed entirely at the few who try to help. Despite Evie’s best efforts, John’s only gratitude is reserved for the stream of cheap hookers that regularly populate his home, and Dougie, more pimp than a friend, who preys on and indulges John’s need for drugs, drink and the darker pleasures in life.
What elevates Broken above many other, generic horrors of this kind are the performances. The plot is standard in premise, and the pacing is unarguably ponderous at times; although that is a tool intentionally and successfully utilised by Smith to build tension. But the performances are something else entirely. Essentially a two-hander for much of the running time, Alaoui and Raido are outstanding as the dangerously dysfunctional couple. Their antagonistic relationship that occasionally, almost imperceptibly threatens to become something else entirely, is beautifully unwatchable at times. Evie struggles to care for John, often needing to force herself to help the man who extolls misery upon her. When Dougie lashes out, she finds no defence from John, yet despite the gruelling punishment you always feel some sense of a connection, albeit a faint and potentially sinister one.
The location itself also adds to the oppressive atmosphere of the film. Every surface feels covered in grief and sadness as if the house is weeping at the events within. Smith’s direction also heaps on the discomfort, feeling almost voyeuristic in places; you want to turn away, you want the camera to make you, but you remain transfixed on the spiralling destruction on screen.
Not a pleasant experience by any stretch of the imagination, Broken remains a captivating film. Smith forces you to study his characters intently, to empathise with their predicament as they struggle to cling to any last hope of sanity. The conclusion, when it finally comes to release you, is as inevitable as it is strangely satisfying. Addictively horrific, Broken may not be a film you’ll return to, but it is certainly one you must see at least once.
BROKEN / CERT; 15 / DIRECTOR: SHAUN ROBERT SMITH / SCREENPLAY: CRAIG CONWAY, SHAUN ROBERT SMITH / STARRING: MORJANA ALAOUI, MEL RAIDO, CRAIG CONWAY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW