The Keeping Room (2015)

Stick together, ladies. Can’t trust those men and their penises.

In the waning days of the Civil War, everybody seemed to be on their own and left to fend for their own darn selves. Two sisters, Augusta (Brit Marling) and Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) live out in their family’s home, strapped with plenty of guns, food, and shelter to keep themselves alive and well during this whole time. And of course, they have their trusted and loyal slave, Mad (Muna Otaru), by their side no matter what. But now, with the Civil War starting to draw closer and nearer to its end, that means that more and more stragglers will start showing up at these ladies’ front doors, leaving them with no other option other than to defend themselves, by any means necessary. And after one fateful trip into the city, it seems as if a certain bloody and violent hunter by the name of Moses (Sam Worthington) now wants something to do with these girls and even though it’s clear he isn’t going to stop by for a simple “hello” and leave it at that, the girls still don’t know what to do. Do they go to a small war with him and see if they can survive? Or do they run away and head for the hills, all over again?

Brit's got a gun.
Brit’s got a gun.

You can call the Keeping Room, “feminist propaganda” if you want, but you wouldn’t necessarily be right in saying so. Sure, it’s a story about women staying strong, sticking together, and facing all sorts of adversity, united as one, but really, it’s deeper than that. The movie is less about making some sort of point or message about gender, or sexuality in general, and more or less trying to speak about what can happen at the end of a war – when practically all hope and faith in humanity is lost, civil order has gone out the window, and practically everyone is on their own.

In that sense, the Keeping Room is a way better movie than you’d expect.

What director Daniel Barber doe so well, for so very long with the Keeping Room, is that he takes his good old time with the material and doesn’t really tell us too much at the very beginning. For the first ten minutes or so, with the exception of a gun-shot and a dark barking, there’s hardly any words spoken, or any other noise heard; instead, we hear the whistle of the wind, trees, grass and whatever actions certain characters are doing. Nobody in the movie really laces out into long, tired and winding tirades about war, death, or love, but more or less, think about it, without ever telling the audience.

This works in the movie’s favor because it really sets the mood for what sets out to be a very tense movie that doesn’t always realize how tense it can be, until it decides to let loose and just crank up the excitement. But the movie never overdoes it by any means – more or less, it just seems to still take its time, developing characters, setting a stage, and letting all of the cards and pieces fall together. Though Barber doesn’t have a lot to work with here, he still does his best to not forget that taking things in a more melodic nature can sometimes work out the best.

That’s why, in the last act or so, when people start shooting one another, pants are pulled down, and everybody starts, suddenly, opening up, crying and yelling, it becomes a bit of a shock.

Not a good one, though.

See, the issue with the Keeping Room is that for so very, very long, it doesn’t really seem to be about the big movie moments, but instead, the smaller, more intimate ones that feel much more to real life, than to the sort of crap we see on the big screen. That all changes during the last twenty or so minutes where all sorts of action occurs; most of it’s exciting, but still feels oddly-placed in a movie that, for so very long, felt like a kind of a drama that was smarter than convention. Because we get to know and understand these characters, as well as the terrain they’re currently setting up shop in, the killing is a lot more compelling than it would be, had there been no development either way, but still, something feels slightly off.

Hailee's got a gun.
Hailee’s got a gun.

That said, the cast is great and given that they have very little to do, except stare into space, they work wonders. Brit Marling’ Augusta is perhaps the strongest of the three female characters here, as she not only feels like the most determined, but perhaps the smartest one. She knows what to do in a situation such as this, where law and order has been practically shoved to the side, and also knows that she needs to keep her girls together, so long as they want to live on and not be killed, raped, or left for dead.

Same goes Muna Otaru’s Mad who, despite not saying much at first, eventually shows a side to her character that’s not just unexpected, but also welcoming. There’s a certain backstory to her character that isn’t just tragic (what with being a slave and whatnot), but also telling of the time and why she is, the way she is. I won’t give it away because it’s a very special moment in a movie full of almost hardly anything happening, but just know, it’s a very good scene and shows that Otaru, even without having to say anything, can work on levels. Same goes for Hailee Steinfeld’s Louise, who definitely seems like the more unlikable, bratty of the three, but soon learns to grow up very fast.

And then, there’s the two men of the story that take up another good portion of this movie, with Kyle Soller and Sam Worthington. Neither character really get as much development as they probably should, other than being seen as dirty, ruthless rapists, but both try. Worthington especially does a good job because, for once in a very long time, it seems like he’s playing a character that isn’t asking for you to love him, but rather, see him as something of a human being. Though he’s a very unlikable one, he’s still someone who has probably seen plenty of death and tragedy in life, so for him to act the way that he is now, sort of makes sense.

Doesn’t excuse who he turns out to be, but it’s thoughtful enough that reminds me that Sam Worthington may actually be something of a good actor.

Consensus: While it may take its own, meandering time to get going, the Keeping Room still works best in the smaller, quieter moments, with its talented cast and scary setting placing you right in the action.

6.5 / 10

Sam doesn't. But that's okay, because he's still making plenty of money from Avatar.
Sam doesn’t. But that’s okay, because he’s still making plenty of money from Avatar.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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