Sunday, October 12, 2014

LFF short review: home invasion thriller The Keeping Room

Imagine Panic Room in the nineteenth century and you have got The Keeping Room. Towards the end of the Civil War, two Union soldiers (Sam Worthington and Ned Dennehy) roam the American south after breaking away from their regiment, leaving a bloody trail of rape and death. They set their greedy sights on three young women (Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld and Muna Otaru) who live alone on a remote farm, where the soldiers encounter more resistance then expected.

The Keeping Room is a simple, but effective home invasion thriller with some interesting ideas about gender and race. Left to their own devices during the war, these women had to "learn how to behave like men instead of wives." The circumstances require them to sacrifice their femininity (or what they think femininity is) in order to survive. The social hierarchy is similarly dispensed. Otaru's character, technically a slave, lives in (almost) complete equality with her mistresses and is not afraid to speak her mind.

The film works thanks to strong performances and its tense, claustrophobic setting. Daniel Barber's (Harry Brown) direction is capable and the violence is appropriately shocking. That said, the film never breaks away from genre conventions. I kept expecting it to turn into something more than a standard thriller with interesting ideas, but it never does. 

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