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Broken (2006)

With Broken, writer-director Adam Mason (The 13th Sign, Dust) moves up from wretchedly incompetent drivel to capably-made drivel. This is the sort of film it's hard to condemn enough, in that a selective quote from someone like me (or Billy Chainsaw, who sat behind me at the screening) sounds like a twisted recommendation along the lines of 'so depraved it sickened even Kim Newman'. After that now-mandatory, instantly irritating 'based on a true story' caption, this begins with a sequence derivative of Saw as a young woman is put through a cruel stunt - forced to dig out a razorblade which has been sewn into her intestines in order to free herself from a tree she is tied to - that winds up with the (now literally gutless) woman's shadowy tormentor asking at gunpoint if she wants to continue, then letting her work the trigger on his rifle to end her ordeal in suicide. Later, the nameless psycho (Eric Colvin), who dresses like Richard Stanley, semi-quotes from Saw by claiming never to have killed anyone - though he doesn't have any problems with it when the need arises. Hope (Nadja Brand), the heroine, comes home from a blind date where she has met a nice guy who isn't put off that she's a single mother, cuddles her cute daughter, and goes to sleep... only to wake up in a wooden coffin she has to claw her way out of, and then put through the tied-to-a-tree, razor-in-the-stomach business. She manages this more successfully than the earlier victim, and allows the torture to continue presumably because having a child (whom she guesses is also in the psycho's mercy) gives her something to fight for.

The bulk of the film finds Hope chained to a tree in the middle of some woods miraculously free of passing birdwatchers or ramblers and trained as a slave by 'the Man'. We get the usual attempts at compliance (keeping a feeble vegetable garden going), escape, survival (she seduces her captor) and defiance, and she gets her leg broken Misery-style to hobble her, before the Man brings in a screaming girl (Abbey Stirling) in school uniform (she looks in her mid-twenties). In an inexcusable sequence, the second slave's hysteria is supposed to get laughs as she refuses to shut up for days - the punchline to the joke coming when the Man cuts out her tongue and throws it on the fire. The two women suffer more and there's a vague sense that this isn't working out for the Man. Eventually, the slaves blunder free - the schoolgirl gets shot dead, and Hope finally kills the Man only to be blinded by a sadistic stunt involving the missing daughter and a rigged-up shotgun.

It's an uncomfortable watch, but you can't try to justify this sort of grim and depressing story as based on fact and still use cheap horror gimmicks like the last-reel nasty twist or ridiculous unlikelinesses like the heroine's miraculously self-cleaning blouse and the plot-mandated refusal of the victims to finish off the villain when they have the chance. There's an uncomfortable sense that the film exists only to show the protracted torture of women as an attention-getting device - it has nothing to say about slavery as a sexual or societal aberration, only the most feebly-conceived attempts at character, some laughable arty bits (the heroine cultivates a pretty flower, which the baddie pulls because you can't eat it) and a general sense of being another posting by someone you'd never like to hear from again.

First published in this form here.

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