The Brøken (2008)

The Brøken first published by Fim4

Film summary: A London radiologist confronts her dark side in Sean Ellis’ psychological horror. 

Review: Pedro Almodóvar may have come up with the phrase in his breakout 1988 comedy, but really it is horror and thriller movies that have the best track record for treating women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Repulsion (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Others (2001), Dark Water (2002), The Forgotten (2004), Flightplan (2005), The Descent (2005) and Shrooms (2006) all present a neurotic woman’s gradual unravelling from the ambiguous vantage point of her own perspective, so that it is not clear (at least until the end) whether the genre thrills that she is experiencing are unfolding in the real world or just in her addled head. Sean Ellis’ The Brøken plays a similar game, but with such mastery of the cinematic form, and such a clever interweaving of different narrative types, that its very derivativeness ends up being seen through a glass darkly.      

Gina McVey (Lena Headey) successfully divides herself between her loving family and her career as a radiologist, between the apartment being refurbished by her architect boyfriend Stefan (Melville Popaud) and her own flat (“a girl’s gotta have clean underwear”). One night, though, at a surprise party for her father John (Richard Jenkins) also attended by her artist brother Daniel (Asier Newman), his girlfriend Kate (Michelle Duncan) and Stefan, a large mounted mirror falls and shatters, and with it, Gina’s sense of a coherent identity. 

On her way home from work the next day, Gina spots a woman driving by who is the spitting image of herself, and follows her to an elegant apartment where she finds a photo of the same woman with John. A confused (and unseen) confrontation follows, and as Gina nervously flees the scene, her car is involved in a head-on collision. Waking from a coma with only a fragmented memory of the events that led up to the accident, Gina begins to experience disturbed, half-hallucinatory flashbacks, and becomes convinced that Stefan is an impostor. Is she suffering, as her doctors suggest, from Capgras syndrome, a rare delusional condition associated with brain lesions, or is something altogether more sinister taking place?

All the conventional filmic signifiers for a character’s personal disintegration – cracked mirrors, lost keys, houses in disrepair, scratched photos, drips from the ceiling, something amiss in the attic – are present and correct here, but the film’s neat trick rests in the way its narrative is as fractured as its protagonist. Amnesia flicks are a dime a dozen – but The Brøken turns their usual tropes inside out, leaving the viewer to flounder in a succession of uncanny experiences, disrupted chronologies, vivid dreams, and recurrent memories, all unified by Ellis’ crisply disorienting visual aesthetic and by a point-of-view that mirrors the truth only obliquely. 

“Do you think we could fix it?”, asks John optimistically after the mirror in the dining room breaks – but the truth is that, when confronted by such a fragmentary mosaic of scenes as this, the best hope is to piece together any overall picture from it that you can, while accepting that some cracks and holes will always remain. By the end Ellis has conjured for us a chilling doppelgänger scenario that will be more than familiar to any sci-fi or horror fan –  but the feeling remains that it is only one of several ways in which this story’s scattered sherds might be reconstructed. Reflect on it for too long, and you may well end up seeing double.   

Verdict: This chilling moodpiece is both psychological thriller and ghost story, with each holding up a mirror to how the other half lives.  

© Anton Bitel