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Review: ‘Broken’

Not How You Want to Spend Your Summer Vacation

Above: Skunk and her father share a quiet moment in "Broken."

— Guest Blogger Rebecca Romani says "Broken" (currently playing at the Digital Gym Cinema) is a well-crafted story of dysfunctional life in North London.

Broken doesn’t even begin to explain what is going on in 11-year-old Skunk’s cul–de sac in North London. Set over summer vacation, the pleasant neighborhood houses in “Broken,” hide the pain of families struggling to deal with various scarring experiences.

Skunk, a diabetic, played by the achingly charming Eloise Laurence, lives with her father (Tim Roth- “Incredible Hulk,” “Pulp Fiction”) and older brother. The au pair Kasia has also moved in to care for them because their mother has recently left. The neighbor Mr. Oswald lives across the way with his three wild daughters whom he loves more than life itself since their mother died- but he is blind where their significant faults are concerned- sleeping around, schoolyard bulling, smoking, drinking and accusing local men of rape. And Rick, another neighbor who has learning disabilities, lives with his parents because he has difficulty dealing with socializing.

Skunk’s summer is shattered when her neighbor, Mr. Oswald, ruthlessly attacks Rick, a psychologically fragile young man his daughter has falsely accused of rape. And with that, Skunk’s sense of her world is about to take a savage beating.

The attack on Rick eventually sets off a series of events that go from bad to worse and leaves no one untouched. Rick is sent to an institution and Skunk goes back to school where Oswald’s daughters make her life hell. Eventually one of the daughters accuses Kasia’s teacher boyfriend of getting her pregnant and there is no controlling Mr. Oswald who threatens or beats up anyone who gets in his way in his quest for justice for his girl who has been sleeping her way through both the school and the neighborhood.

The truly bright spot in Skunk’s summer is a bittersweet romance she has with a local boy, Jed, who is at turns funny, gallant and slightly confused about how first love works. But Skunk’s first relationship is short lived when Jed’s family has to move, abandoning her to face the uncertain minefield that is her cul-de sac.

Eventually, Rick is released for a visit but the beating has so unhinged him that he seeks only to withdraw to his room. When his mother tries to bring him out, he pushes her down the stairs, breaking her neck and then attacks his father when he comes home.

Unaware of what is happening in Rick’s house, Skunk sneaks over to visit her friend and lands smack in the middle of Rick’s breakdown. Rick holds Skunk in the house while the rest of the neighborhood searches for her, but as Skunk slips into a diabetic coma, Rick completely collapses, unable to help. When Skunk is finally rescued, her spirit must decide if it will accept the now dead Rick’s invitation to leave this earth or her father’s prayers that she remain.

“Broken,” the feature-film debut by theater and opera director Rufus Norris, is a horrific chain of events well told that slowly numbs you with every turn of the screw. What makes the story more poignant (and slightly more ghastly) is that each family unit suffers a tragedy not of their own making that then spills on to the others.

The story line as it makes its way through the lives to be laid to waste, is tight, clean and well-crafted. The only glaringly issue is the stereotypical subplot of Oswald’s redemption through his rescue of Skunk. It’s a crass and cynical nod to fairytales in an otherwise respectable story of the gothic horror found at the end of a seemingly innocent cul-de-sac.

“Broken” runs through August 1 at the Media Art Center of San Diego's Digital Gym Cinema at 2921 El Cajon Blvd.

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