Director/Screenplay – Sean Ellis, Producer – Lene Bausager, Photography – Angus Hudson, Music – Guy Farley, Visual Effects – Lipsync Post (Supervisor – Tom Collier), Special Effects – Elements Special Effects Ltd (Supervisor – John Rafique), Production Design – Morgan Kennedy. Production Company – Gaumont/Left Turn Films.
Lena Headey (Gina McVey), Richard Jenkins (John McVey), Melvil Poupaud (Stephan Moreau), Asier Newman (Daniel McVey), Michelle Duncan (Kate Coleman), Ulrich Thomsen (Dr Robert Zachman), William Armstrong (Dr Kenric)
London radiologist Gina McVey becomes convinced that a woman is following her – and that the woman is a double who resembles her in every way and even has her own apartment. She is then caught in a car crash but emerges with only minor cuts. Afterwards, Gina becomes convinced that her boyfriend Stephan is not himself anymore. She believes that the people around her are being replaced by emotionless copies that emerge from mirrors. At the same time, her doctors try to persuade her that this is a rare neurological condition brought on by the accident.
I was very impressed with British director Sean Ellis’s debut feature Cashback (2006), which he expanded from his acclaimed 2004 short film of the same name. It featured a youth in a dead-end job who had the ability to freeze time and walk through a world of people stilled in motion. It was made with a fascinatingly original visual style that stood out considerably.
The Brøken was Sean Ellis’s second film, although it failed to gain as high a profile as Cashback did. It did premiere at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival but went straight to dvd release in the US, for instance. Ellis next went onto make the non-genre heist thriller Metro Manila (2013) and the WWII drama Anthropoid (2016).
I came to The Brøken,with high expectations as a result of Cashback and wanting to see what else it was that Sean Ellis could do. The film kicks in with an impressive atmosphere of subtle disquiet that seems to literally brood with ominous things about to happen. There is a constant paranoia generated with shots of people sinisterly peering out from behind blinds and cracks in doorways or reflections of light that give them red eye where you cannot be sure if it is a sign of their being a mirror person or not. The Brøken is not nearly as stylistically adventurous as Cashback was, although Sean Ellis remains consistently on the ball and keeps the mood of menacing quietude seamless.
The Brøken is an undeniable attempt to conduct another variation on the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Indeed, there are times that scenes seem written as a direct homage to the remake Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – like the character of the psychologist (Ulrich Thomsen) who you cannot be sure is not a double, or the woman insisting that her boyfriend is no longer her boyfriend. Much of what is going on is certainly familiar and it is easy to work out what is happening if one has seen any of the versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The small difference here is that for much of the film’s running time the theme of body snatchers sits on an ambiguous line as to whether it is real or in Lena Headey’s head due to neurological damage.
The theme of sinister happenings going on in mirrors was interestingly ‘mirrored’ in that year’s more high-profile Mirrors (2008), although that played the idea for far more in the way of outright horror and less the theme of alienation and doubles. On the other hand, the idea of doppelgangers emerging out of mirrors to eliminate their real world rivals is a silly one when you think about it – although The Brøken is a film that takes itself with a seriousness that defies you to laugh at such an idea. The film never offers any particular explanation or rationale as to why this is happening.
Despite its familiarity, The Brøken does develop some interesting twists. [PLOT SPOILERS]. There comes the point where Lena Headey is on the phone to her brother (Asier Newman) and tells him “the woman who’s following me lives at Pembroke House” and he replies “But Gina, you live at Pembroke House,” and the entire film spins around, leaving you wondering who is whose doppelganger. The interesting twist that follows is that the point-of-view character we have been following is the one who has been the doppelganger all along. It is a twist that has to blur credibility somewhat ie. all the doppelgangers are portrayed as cold and emotionless, whereas the Lena Headey doppelganger is seen throughout as warm and sympathetic, only to suddenly become cold and emotionless once the twist is revealed. Nevertheless, it is enough to make a familiar story work in some modestly interesting ways.