By: Jeff Ching
ReBroken is an ambitious and unique exploration of grief that qualifies as a thriller, drama, horror and a mystery. It’s an unpredictable puzzle that the audience slowly pieces together. But despite that selling point, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Rebroken. I will always applaud a filmmaker for taking risks over playing it safe. However, I didn’t enjoy this experience, which could’ve been fixed had the film built an essential emotional connection to the material.
Will (Scott Hamm Duenas of TV’s General Hospital), suffering the worst kind pain imaginable, grieves the death of his daughter. His will to live has diminished, he eats nothing but TV dinners, he drowns his sorrows in alcohol, but nothing stops him from reliving his daughter’s death. He attends group therapy, but he finds the whole thing to be a load of B.S. Likewise for another attendee, Lydia (Nija Okoro), who tells Will about a man who lives in a tent in the middle of nowhere named Von (Tobin Bell of the Saw franchise) who has the resources to bring his daughter back. Will investigates and with each visit to Von’s, he receives a vinyl record to take home. The record is a voice reciting poetry that works as a meditation. When the vinyl is played, strange paranormal things happen. Is it his daughter visiting him from the dead? Who’s writing those ominous messages with his fridge magnets?
The movie’s depiction of how hard it is to cope after losing a loved one feels authentic. The screenplay (co-written by Duenas and co-star Kipp Tribble) discusses the five stages of grief, and while I’ve never been to group therapy, the deconstruction feels realistic. The issue with ReBroken though is that the movie holds the audience at arm’s length. A story that explores grief should evoke something from the viewer rather than a feeling of indifference. I felt sympathy, when I should be feeling empathy. I felt bad for Will, but I didn’t feel his pain. With no emotional connection to the protagonist, it felt like there wasn’t much at stake; making the variety of genres not work as well. Had the screenwriters considered using flashbacks to a layered past he had with his late daughter, this void may have been filled. They could’ve swapped out some of the repetitive montages showcasing Will’s daily routine. This would’ve been a good way to break up the pace.
ReBroken is in need of a strong central performance too. Duenas doesn’t pull off his leading role, although it’s hard to say if his wooden acting is mostly at fault or if the one-dimensional character is another issue with the screenplay. The most compelling performance comes from Tobin Bell; he had my full attention whenever he was on screen. It’s interesting to see him play a more wholesome role than Saw’s Jigsaw, but he’s still playing Von as an oddball. One of these days I’d like to see him attempt a completely normal character,
ReBroken is directed by Kenny Yates, who has previously co-produced parody films by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (The Starving Games, Best Night Ever, Superfast!). I can’t help but feel that he wasn’t quite ready to take on ReBroken’s complexity. Yates attempts to take a crack at some avant-garde filmmaking, but the results are bland. For that specific style to work, the movie has to go to a surreal and even weirder level, and Yates just doesn’t fully commit to that concept. Same goes with the paranormal aspects of ReBroken. These moments feel like the director placing a tick next to “horror” on his genre to-do list. He doesn’t really try to do anything unique or memorable with the scares, nor does the paranormal aspect of the movie raise the viewer’s pulse in any way. The filmmaking is very workmanlike, but uninspired and amateurish.
Author Robert Mckee says that if you “wow” people in the end, you have a hit (I’m paraphrasing). In that aspect, I will give ReBroken credit for having a strong ending. I never would have predicted its conclusion and, to a certain degree, it does strengthen everything preceding it. Though, if I can borrow from another phrase, sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination and, simply put, the journey just isn’t really worth it to get to ReBroken’s destination.
I’m always rooting for low budget indies, and I sincerely believe ReBroken had promise. But, I think the filmmakers were a little out of their depth with this outing.
Final rating: **1/2 (out of 5)
Read more of Jeff Ching’s thoughts on film at The Ching of Comedy’s blog.