The Keeping Room (2014) Film Review from the 58th Annual BFI London Film Festival, a movie directed by Daniel Barber, starring Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, Sam Worthington, Muna Otaru, Kyle Soller, Ned Dennehy, Amy Nuttall, Nicholas Pinnock, and Charles Jarman.
Set in 1865, near the end of the Civil War, The Keeping Room tells the story of three young women, who, left to fend for themselves are forced to deal with troubled Yankee soldiers who break into their home seeking blood, amongst other things. The screenplay written by Julia Hart made The Hollywood Black List in 2012, for one of the best un-produced scripts. However, director Daniel Barber has taken certain liberties and turned this film into a brutal, drama/suspense flick. It is a failed attempt to showcase strong women. In the end, it disappoints the viewer on a number of levels. Most glaringly it fails to deliver on the script and the talented cast at its disposal.
Brit Marling plays Augusta, our lead and the group’s leader. The group is rounded off by Augusta’s younger sister Louise (Hailee Steinfeld), and a young slave girl named Mad (Muna Otaru). The dark and gritty Carolina landscape lends the perfect setting to this semi-gothic suspense film. Augusta is the fearless head of the household, though she is not much older than Louise, and in a different time she may have allowed herself to be a freer woman. War has forced her to grow up too soon. Marling adds the depth the character desperately needs. A youthful face with eyes that seem to belong to a much older soul, Augusta is the mother, the father, the sister, and the protector. Marling makes Augusta a loyal, humble, and lovable character, which for a film with such violence and expected scenes of rape, is highly disconcerting. Louise is more care-free, always dreaming of a better life. Steinfeld beautifully portrays the more romantic sentiments of the character, adding a childish charm to a young woman who by all means should be a little less naïve. Mad is played as a strong woman, second only to Augusta in that respect. She is dutiful, playful, and harbours a dark secret, which most people will be able to guess about half way into the film.
The problem is not with the casting, it is with the film in general. The dialogue is often monotonous and un-inspiring. Even the monologue presented by Mad towards the final third of the film is soft spoken and lacking any real passion. Which is disappointing considering Mad doesn’t have many important lines in the film. She often acts a periphery figure, like a quiet third sister. This is a film that by all means should be about female strength through adversity, instead, it’s a poorly made representation. Countless scenes showing the boring, mundane tasks carried out by the ladies on a daily basis add no sense of excitement or intrigue to the film. I’m sure nobody wants to see someone cook, clean, eat, chop wood, and carry out their daily routine. It was surely meant to show the women’s self-reliance, instead, it managed to make a 95 minute film seem like it was much, much longer.
This film is a let-down partially due to its inconsistency. The opening scenes are of brutality, as Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller), the two Yankees, mow their way through countless people in a blood-thirsty pillaging spree, killing and raping everyone in sight. The violence against women in this film was extreme, to put it mildly, a good second and third act would have rectified that, but that was not to be. The film starts off with a high tempo and just falls from there, never to truly rise up again. As I’ve mentioned before, the film slows down for a large portion of the film, which is why the gun-shots in the final third of the film act as a surge of energy, in the same vain as a defibrillator. It shocks people’s interest and it fails to deliver.
This film, though well intentioned and with a supposedly promising script, was a massive disappointment. This film should be avoided at all costs, unless of course you’re a scientist who’s researching time dilation techniques. In which case, you may find parts of the film useful.
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