Tag Archives: 4.5 Star Movies

The War Zone (1999)

Actor Tim Roth’s dictatorial debut is also an exquisitely acted masterwork about the dark secrets surrounding a middle-class British family, with Lara Belmont stealing the show as the abused daughter. Teenager Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) is horrified but initially fails to intervene when he realizes his older sister (Belmont) is carrying on an incestuous relationship with their father (Ray Winstone.)

Winstone, who is primarily known by the public for imposing-baddie-with-a-cockney-accent kind of roles, really sells it as a monster of a human being. You will hate this man so much you will want to vomit. Tilda Swinton plays Mum, who is pregnant at the start of the film, and later has a baby girl named Alice.

The weird thing is, Tom doesn’t immediately see his older sister as a victim, even as he looks on as she is raped by her father. In fact, Jess (the sister) doesn’t always see herself as a victim either. I don’t think she thinks she deserves to be saved. She occasionally fancies herself a Daddy’s girl, and may very nearly likes the attention and the meager pleasures of the ever more frequent assaults.

She teases Tom, coyly denies it. Tom seems to blame Jess for the impending disintegration of their family, rather than the piece of human excrement who sits at their table, eats their food, makes love to their mother like his interests aren’t directed elsewhere. While ‘Dad’ is a monster, Tom isn’t exactly sympathetic either, and Jess initially raises question of whether she likes Daddy’s attentions, and, in fact, is complaint in the incest.

This is not a movie for the weak of heart. I was disgusted, but in a good way if you know what I mean. This movie is a hundred times scarier than “The Shining” and a hundred times more grotesque than “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence,)” if only because it is firmly rooted in reality. The only thing I can think to compare it to is “Tyrannosaur,” another great movie who was also directed by a UK actor (Paddy Considine.)

This movie is not about ghosts, devils, evil entities, or masked killers. It’s about the evils people do, the atrocities that can take place in a more or less regular household. While the lack of sexual boundaries the family exhibits is off-putting, it doesn’t seem to incorporate abuse at first. Oh, how wrong you are, filmgoer.

I recommend this amazing movie to people with very strong stomachs. The acting is great all around and the script is nearly flawless. I’m still floored that Lara Belmont did no professional acting prior to this movie. Her acting will blow you away. One of the most underrated performances ever. I hope Tim Roth can find time to make another movie in addition to his acting career. Purely, and simply… great.

The Living & the Dead (2006)

Not your first pick for Mother’s Day, The Living and the Dead is morbid and horrifying, and I mean that, strangely, as a compliment. It is a family drama, a psychological thriller, a tragedy, an art film, all these things at once, and and despite it’s flaws, it doesn’t overextend.

The film opens with Lord Donald Brocklebank (Roger Lloyd-Pack), a worn-down, silent shell of an old man, pushing an empty wheelchair through a quiet room. The image delivers the same feeling as a dark grey painting, lonely and despondent. He watches, lip quivering, as an ambulance pulls into his massive estate. Cut back an undetermined amount of time. Donald stands straighter. He maintains a kind of pride that must come with being one of the British elite, but he is grieving. He has a lot to grieve about.

His wife, Lady Nancy Brocklebank, is terribly sick and probably won’t be with him much longer. The bills are piling up, and they will soon lose their mansion. His son James (Leo Bill, in an over-the-top performance that works), dashes around the house with little clear purpose.

James is in his mid-to-late twenties. He is stuck in a kind of permanent childhood, the kind of childhood that is made up of nightmares, not whimsy. Although Simon Rumley, the director, describes him as “mentally challenged,” I suspect paranoid schizophrenia.

James is by far my favorite character in the film. He is a complicated movie creation, and his emotional limitations do not hold back his complexity or ambiguity as a person. Donald treats James with the casual cruelty that is most likely inflicted on the mentally ill more often than we think, condescending to him, forbidding him to use the phone or answer the door. James is desperate to prove to his father that he is an independent adult and plans to do so by taking care of his mother.

His father understandably rejects the idea. In an matter of days, James will have locked the door, shut out the nurse, skipped his pills, and may have destroyed the lives of those closest to him. Soon, as his lucidity deteriorates, the viewer begins to wonder if the past events were only in James’ head. This is a film for a patient audience — it’s a while before anything happens and the reality of the events is questionable.

The atmosphere is palpable, and the characters are well developed. There are many plot holes and unanswered questions throughout the film, as the story itself seems on the edge of reality, with its Gothic features and abstract images.

People have had different opinions on whether James is “good” or “bad.” He is a disturbing character, to be sure. He is not a sex maniac, mad slasher, or stony-faced killer, but an exceptionally childlike and deeply disturbed man. This movie might make you feel differently about a crime, in the paper, in which mental illness was a factor. Despite naysayers, The Living and the Dead is an emotional bombshell and thought-provoking film.