The Keeping Room
DVD: The Keeping Room (2014)
I suppose one could call this a ‘revisionist western’, one that would hold hands with Meek’s Cutoff, The Beguiled and Cold Mountain. However, this is a blend of slow-burning frontier feminism and edge-of-your-seat home invasion/thriller and is undoubtedly the most authentically unorthodox take on the western genre I’ve seen. Director Daniel Barber takes his time creating a barren world filled with fear and starvation, and inhabited by two previous southern belle sisters and their ex-slave barely surviving together at the end of the American civil war. The three have been left to tend the family farm, their father and brother having joined the Confederate army seemingly several years ago. Working alongside them is Mad (Muna Otaru), their slave whose change in status because of the war and who eventually becomes their equal is a brave move. The dynamic between the 3 women shifts and changes from one scene to the next, the realisation of the younger entitled lazy sister that her once slave is not only her saviour but her ‘sister’ is perfect. The women know things will never be the same, that the war has changed their and everyone else’s life indelibly.
Harbingers of that change are the feral Union Scouting soldiers (Sam Worthington, Kyle Soller; yes that Kyle, the one who’s Francis in Poldark and who does ‘evil’ beautifully) that she encounters while looking for medicine after her sister is bitten by a raccoon. She escapes them once, but they follow her back to her house. Here the film swiftly changes from a somewhat languid character study of women on the edge, to a full out home invasion/rape thriller. The change DOES work, and Sam Worthington’s ‘Is he evil? Is he… good?’ conundrum could end up with a very unsatisfactory end, but luckily the writer and director follow through by giving Augusta a massive set of balls, which she uses.
This is quite an unusual film, I can imagine its slow-burn putting some people off, but stick with it because the reward is there, and I have a feeling that this will become a champion film to aid ‘feminism in the western film’ essays for years to come. Having watched it, I could actually watch it again, and have thought about its content since that 1st viewing.
- The Making Of The Keeping Room
- Audio Commentary with Julia Hart and Brit Marling (Julia Hart is terribly annoying in an earnest ‘take me seriously, I’m a writer’ way, to the point that I had to turn it off. Sorry Julia).