It is weird how The Broken seems to have slipped under so many radars. Cashback, Ellis' first film, gained the director many fans which should be more than excited to see his follow-up. Maybe it's because The Broken is very different in style, maybe it's because Mirrors has a superficially similar theme or maybe it's just because this film could be quite difficult to market, even to Ellis' fans.
While Cashback was quite light, humorous and even poetic in tone, The Broken is simply dark and menacing. Something Ellis' claims to be closer to his home territory, and who can contradict him after seeing his newest film? Every part of the film is tweaked to inject some sense of dread into the audience and for the greater part the film succeeds pretty well.
Ellis started out his career as a fashion photographer and it shows in his films. He is very keen on eye candy and he likes to show off. Even though the photography of The Broken has little in common with the flashy and glamorous look of fashion photography, Ellis' attention to detail and almost perfect use of color owes more than a little to his former line of work.
The film looks dark and gloomy from start to finish, with no bright or strong colors ever penetrating the darkened haze lying over the film. The editing is timid and the camera work often slow and even a little off-key. Intentionally so, as one strong scene with a mirror breaking off screen just after the camera has had it in frame for a good 30 seconds demonstrates. It's scenes like this that add a lot to the mystery and uneasy atmosphere in the film.
The score is nice and atmospheric, though could've contributed a little more to the film. While it definitely adds to the atmosphere, it's only in the last minute (and during the end credits) that Ellis shows more should have been done with it. The broken electronic of that last track fits so well with the film, but it's the only time such an effect is applied. A missed opportunity, even though the rest of the score remains more than decent enough.
It's not the visuals or music that will keep audiences away from The Broken though. The film is only 90 minutes long, but even in that small time frame Ellis keeps things vague and slow. Even though the uneasy atmosphere is ever present, there is not much happening on screen. There are two or three pretty effective scare scenes, but that doesn't draw an audience to the theater anymore.
The biggest problem with The Broken is that it never reveals much about what is going on. We follow the main character while stuff happens to her. Weird stuff that is never explained, not even hinted at. We see the "what", but never understand the "who" or "why". While this will definitely kill the movie for many, to me it was Ellis' most brilliant move. It elevates The Broken above all those horror flicks trying to explain the unexplainable with some weak or badly thought up story twists. None of that here.
And even though there is some kind of twist at the end of the film, it is hinted at a lot earlier so it shouldn't really come as a big surprise. Ellis confirmed himself he didn't set the film up to have a twist ending and by letting the audience in on it bit by bit he simply increased the mysterious feel as the film progressed.
Whether you can stomach being left behind in the dark is up to you, but if you think you can handle the lack of information on what the hell is happening, there is a little masterpiece hidden in The Broken. Ellis' style is refreshing amongst all those modern horror flicks fighting to be the goriest. Ellis' focus is an uneasy atmosphere by leaving the audience in the dark and simply showing the facts from one point of view, and he succeeds remarkably well.
By far one of the most stylish horror films to come out of England in quite a while. Ellis proves himself a great director, who can handle more than one style. I don't really care what he does next, as long as it's as good as Cashback and The Broken, I'll be there, buying my movie ticket.