The Keeping Room (2015; Daniel Barber)
By Daniel Barnes
Set in “The American South, 1865”, Daniel Barber’s pompous and lifeless The Keeping Room opens with a quote from the Civil War’s rampaging General Sherman: “War is cruelty.” Under Barber’s heavy-handed direction, it’s also tedious and inert, as the film halfheartedly stokes a glacial, almost imperceptibly slow burn that never gives off any heat.
Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld play sisters living a meager, man-less existence with their black servant (Muna Otaru), while a couple of Union soldiers played by Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller indiscriminately rape and pillage a path towards an inevitable standoff.
The Julia Hart script strives to introduce feminist elements into a revenge genre text, but Ms. 45 it is not. This is indulgent, draggy, ponderous stuff, with some risible attempts at building suspense and a litany of squandered opportunities.
None of the key performances are convincing (Marling especially goes dress-up play-time broad) except for the newcomer Otaru, who gets a great scene where she relives a horrifying childhood memory, while also explaining the film’s mysterious title. It’s powerful stuff, but hardly worth the effort of slogging through Barber’s morass.