15 March 2005 | cedric_owl
One of the best of the 90's
Strange, opaque and deeply unsettling, the War Zone is the only way a film about a topic as horrifying as incest should be. Tim Roth, realizing that the family of the film is too far gone to elicit much empathy from the audience, simply tries to convey the story as truthfully as possible. With crushing results.
At the beginning of the film, we're introduced to a nameless clan: a genial father (Ray Winstone), a mother exhausted from recently giving birth (Tilda Swinton), a sullen teenage boy (Freddie Cunliffe), and his strikingly beautiful older sister (Lara Belmont). All four have recently moved from London to the remote, seaside village of Devon, leaving the two kids feeling isolated and adrift.
What follows for the next hour or so is a brilliantly confusing experience--Roth presents a series of odd quirks about the family that makes the audience question what is merely eccentricity and what hints at something darker. Why, for example, does the family walk around naked most of the time? Don't those siblings seem slightly too "affectionate" given that they're teenagers? What exactly does the boy see his father doing with his sister in the bathroom that bothers him so? All of this mystery leads up to an absolutely harrowing scene which leaves no mystery as to the dynamic between father and daughter. More emotionally explicit than physically so, the scene is rightfully regarded as one of cinema's more horrible acts of on-screen violence, yet doesn't feel gratuitous in the slightest.
This film is as sparse as possible, with almost no inflection or melodramatic effects. Scenes are generally shot in long takes with a static camera (gorgeously framed in widescreen). There is little excess dialogue, and almost no music. Often we are placed into the middle of confusing scenes that are open to numerous interpretations. We more or less have to come to our own conclusions about what is going on. The teenagers are as inexpressive and introspective as teenagers in real life, which makes there unexpected emotional outbursts all the more powerful.
Why Roth hasn't made any other films is beyond me. He has a lean, cinematic sensibility which is unmatched by any other actor-director. I hope he gets an opportunity to use it again soon.