The War Zone

1998, Movie, R, 99 mins


Brace yourself: Actor Tim Roth's austere directing debut is one of the most difficult, emotionally wrenching experiences you're likely to have in a movie theater anytime soon. But if you can stand it, you'll find this unflinching portrayal of one English family undone by incest impeccably acted; it reveals a careful, assured director who never lets the explosive material get the better of his good judgement. Soon after his father (Ray Winstone) relocates his London-based family to a cramped farmhouse in the damp and remote Devonshire countryside, 15-year-old Tom (Freddie Cunliffe) stumbles upon an awful secret. Arriving home from shopping one afternoon with his mother (Tilda Swinton), Tom spies his father and 17-year-old sister, Jessie (Lara Belmont), alone together in the bath. When he confronts Jessie with what he's seen, she denies anything happened; it is, after all, a small house, and no one else in the family seems to have a problem with casual nudity. But the closer Tom looks, the more he sees, until the evidence against his father becomes irrefutable, and the damage done to his sister becomes impossible to ignore. It's all so brutally matter-of-fact that it's often hard not to turn away. Adapted by screenwriter Alexander Stuart from his own novel, the film first astutely maps the treacherous psychological terrain of the family romance -- alone in the middle-of-nowhere, Tom himself shows an unwholesome sexual curiosity towards his mother and sister -- then journeys straight into hell. And there's no going back: Roth is merciless in detailing the horrors of sexual abuse and the pain and corruption it leaves behind. At the center of this powerful, modern-day Greek tragedy is newcomer Belmont's shattering performance: She burns like a raw nerve, and leaves you with a picture of suffering that's impossible to shake. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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