The Keeping Room
Starring Brit Marling, Muna Otaru, Hailee Steinfeld, Sam Worthington
The Keeping Room is fascinating and there is really no other way to describe a film that manages to find a slice of the Civil War, uncovered in American cinema. Everyone involved in the project is relatively new to cinema. Ironically 32-year-old actress Brit Marling is the seasoned veteran here. Director Daniel Barber only on his third feature, Julia Hart debuts her first feature screenplay. The look of The Keeping Room is as gorgeous as the subject matter is dark. In fact, this story of young women left to defend themselves at home during The Civil War is probably the second scariest non-horror-genre film I have seen this year, right behind Sicario.
Its 1865, deep in the South and the war has taken all the men leaving the young women to farm and protect. These women learn to shoot a gun before they wed. Augusta (Marling) is in charge of her father’s house, with younger sister Louise (Steinfeld) in her care. They have help from Mad (Otaru), who at this point is equal in this household, although her freedom is never discussed. When Louise is bitten by a raccoon near the edge of the wood, Augusta is forced to ride into town seeking medicine, but what she finds are two Yankee’s raping and killing their way through anything they can use and discard. She escapes back to the house, armed and willing to do what is necessary to protect what little she has left.
Second scariest non-horror-genre film I have seen this year.
Filmed in Romania near the exact location Cold Mountain used as Civil War era North Carolina, The Keeping Room has an eerie quality despite its lush setting. Nightfall has rarely been this unsettling and the sound, both score and effects, throttle the suspense. “There are many kinds of monsters in this world. You never know which ones are gonna’ be yours,” Mad says after one of the films turning points. There are few light hearted moments in this film of survival and while at 94 minutes we don’t get extensive character development, the script says a lot through circumstance and interaction much the way Gravity did for Sandra Bullock’s character.
Since her performance in Another Earth (2011), Marling has been a commanding presence both on screen and off. Not only did she star in Another Earth and thriller The East, but wrote and produced them as well. Her previous film I-Origins she even got a soundtrack credit. In The Keeping Room she is full on actress, in one of her strongest performances yet. Otaru (Lions For Lambs, Rendition) and Worthington (Everest, Clash of the Titans) also add to the credibility of the film, while Steinfeld plays the same thing she always does. Not only does The Keeping Room offer a slice of Civil War from the female perspective, it shows varying degrees of that perspective through three women. “We ain’t coming back til he is ours,” the moment when the hunted becomes the hunter.
Fascinating and chilling from start to finish.