Broken begins with its tetraplegic central character, John, crapping himself and immediately giving his live-in caregiver Evie a hard time for not helping him quickly enough. This could feasibly be used as a metaphor for how it feels to watch this movie: like sitting in your own excrement for an hour and a half while someone yells at you. Any hyperbolic cries about it being “soul-destroying” or “hugely emotional” are garbage. This is a grating, exploitative and ultimately empty experience devoid of any insight into the life of a carer, or their charge.
Mel Raido (who you can see very shortly in The Disappointments Room, if you are so inclined) is the cripple, while Martyrs’ Morjana Alaoui plays an actual martyr as his devoted, but hugely put-upon, live-in custodian. The whole question hanging over the movie is who has the more miserable life – him or her? He’s stuck in a wheelchair, but she has to listen to him. Supposedly based on the filmmakers’ real-life experiences, Broken seeks to force the audience to face up to both characters’ horrifying realities.
The problem is, it’s near impossible to empathise with either of them. Alaoui gives it her all as Evie, but her character’s motivations are unclear, even when it’s laid out that she has to stay with John or risk never getting another job. The tortured background she’s, naturally, endured is shoehorned in via bizarre paranormal interludes (jarring, out of place and chucked in at random moments) and pretentious dream sequences that add nothing. If the focus was on the escalating tension between her and John, they might be easier to swallow.
Unfortunately, Broken wants to have its cake and eat it too. People do so many drugs it’s like Pulp Fiction. A firearm features heavily towards the end. A sequence which sees various characters snorting coke basically off the camera lens is inventive but incredibly out of place. None of it gels together, none of it drives the narrative forward. And at the heart of it all we have this obnoxious asshole who we not only can’t empathise with, but also cannot comprehend why anyone would want to spend time in his company.
The most worrying aspect is that, given the movie’s rushed, nonsensical ending, there’s a chance it was envisioned as a tale of female empowerment. Evie takes some serious knocks over the course of just a few days, including threats of rape and violence – not to mention John’s near-constant jeering. Her perceived triumph over adversity, as it were, leads to one of the only good moments in the entire film. But it also suggests that, underneath it all, Broken was conceived as her story.
Given the poor woman doesn’t eat the whole time and only showers once, it’s safe to say her life is pretty horrible. Hopefully Alaoui, as an actress, can seek out roles more further removed from her most famous one after this, because she takes a Martyrs-esque beating here, too. But there’s nothing to sell us on her comeback, no moments of self-reflection, nor a turning – or, indeed, breaking – point to speak of. She endures and then she doesn’t.
Broken marks director Shaun Robert Smith’s third feature, and his first collaboration with actor-turned-writer Craig Conway (who stars here as yet another a-hole, in a sea of a-holes). The two clearly wish to lend an air of authenticity to the project but, in focusing on the darker aspects, while simultaneously attempting to make something entertaining, they’ve managed to create a movie that doesn’t work either as a grimy kitchen sink thriller or a gut-wrenching, realistic drama.
John may be suicidal thanks to his condition, but I lost the will to live watching this movie.
WICKED RATING: 2/10
Director(s): Shaun Robert Smith
Writer(s): Shaun Robert Smith, Craig Conway
Stars: Morjana Alaoui, Mel Raido, Craig Conway, Patrick Toomey
Studio/ Production Co: WSG Pictures
Length: 98 minutes