We all know that, ultimately, even the most sickening on-screen horrors pale in comparison to things going on across the world everyday. Even so, the fact that Broken was inspired by the director’s time working as a carer is chilling. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it hits hard.
Evie (Martyr’s Morjana Alaoui) has just taken care of John (Mel Raido), a tetraplegic ex-musician. John isn’t the nicest of guys at the best of times, so his disability has made him close to insufferable. He barks orders at Evie and treats her like a slave day in and day out. The film, which is co-written by the director, Shaun Robert Smith, and Craig Conway (who also stars as John’s enabling friend, Dougie), becomes a study into the relationship between these two oil and water personalities.
Alaoui and Raido are outstanding in the lead roles. Both actors eschew any mannered caricature for naturalism, and the result is two uncomfortably real performances. They’re a big reason the film works as well as it does. Conway’s also very strong in his supporting role. Dougie is more of a black and white character than the two leads, but he’s is brilliantly despicable nonetheless.
Smith and Conway’s script is intelligent and empathetic, asking questions of the audience, as opposed to passing judgement on its characters. It does make for a very difficult watch, though. Smith doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant details of life as a carer. He could so easily have gone just with the broader, more palatable hardships, but instead chooses to represent every facet of professional care and makes some truly tragic observations in the process.
Now, if you were thinking this doesn’t sound like much of a horror film, then you’d be right. It plays like a social realist drama for the most part, but some creepy visions and a cathartic finale deliver more traditional genre thrills without ever diminishing the serious, and understated, work done elsewhere. Likewise, the music, from English two-piece Hyde & Beast, isn’t necessarily the kind of accompaniment you might first associate with a film such as this. But, their songs are great and the upbeat tones are juxtaposed chillingly with Evie’s crummy situation.
Smith and Conway play their hand confidently in Broken, unhurriedly revealing their cards, and only when the time is right. Some may describe it as a bit of a slow burn, but it felt just right to me.