At times it seems that many people have been desensitized to the brutality that is possible in families. Perhaps this is due to over the top pseudo talk shows like Jerry Springer. Each day it is possible to tune in an watch what should be the most intimate family secrets. Each day people watch this and laugh. What War Zone does is takes back the human toll on a family in extreme crisis. Not unlike American Beauty in impact this film presents an unvarnished look at an extremely dysfunctional family. Like most such families, this one has the façade of happiness. The story centers on a 15-year-old boy Tom (Freddie Cunliffe). It is through his eyes that the tale unfolds. Mum (Tilda Swinton) is expecting another baby. She is so focused on the impending birth that she does not notice, or at least pretends not to notice, the pressure building around her. Tom has an older sister Jessie (Lara Belmont). She is withdrawn and sullen. The feeling of dread is greatly enhanced whenever Jessie is near their father (Ray Winstone). Tom can guess that something is very wrong and fears that their father is molesting his sister. The juxtaposition of the taboo fear and hatred with the coming joy of a new life holds the family on the brink without allowing them the resolution of being pushed over one side or the other.
For a largely unknown cast the selection of actors is incredibly well done. Cunliffe portrays a young man that is torn between a need to act to protect his sister and a voyeuristic desire to allow the abuse to continue. He brings to his character a depth of emotion that is rarely seen in any Hollywood movie and not often seen to this degree in many independent films. This young man deserves to be permitted the opportunity to expand and grow in his craft. Lara Belmont also shows talent beyond her years. As another character torn between desire and repulsion she walks a tightrope that many young actresses would not have been able to manage. Even though the film centers on the adolescent children, the adults are far more than just window-dressings. Swinton gives to her supporting role here the same degree of professionalism as she did in Orlando. In a very bold move she even shows her nude body after just delivering twins in real life. The scene is far from vulgar or sensationalistic, it comes across as a beautifully done look at real life. There are many very difficult scenes for an actor to perform. The two young leads do an excellent job of it. They bring a tenderness to each other as siblings yet there is the constant undercurrent of fear and repression.
Many actors dream of being directors. Few manage to actually rise to the challenge. Tim Roth does so with flair not often displayed. Roth is most typically known for his character roles. He was the bank robber in the beginning of Pulp Fiction and Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs. In this, his freshman effort, Roth shows the viewer that he fully understands the role of the director. A role that should provide the means to the actors performance without overly imposing himself to the point where the actors are mere puppets. Roth provides the freedom of expression to his cast. He appears to take the advice of the cinematographer so that the scenery integrates into the story without overwhelming it. The best choice Roth made in this film is not to follow the format so often seen in movies about incest. He does not take the first person view at all but rather allows the audience to remain detached, an observer rather than a participant. His cast also uses this approach very well. Many victims of incest have stated that they detached themselves from the events in order to survive. This is the overall feeling provided by the film. Roth's commentary is excellent, one of the best such tracks around. He knows when to keep quiet and when to explain something behind the scenes.
The disc is excellent. The two-channel surround sound is not a limitation here but rather adds to the intimacy of the film. This film does not need the open field effect of 5.1 sound but rather uses the two-channel sound to draw the viewer into the scene. The letterboxed 1.85:1 video is free of artifact and flaws. Even in the darkest scenes the details of there. It provides the feeling that you are in the shadows watching helplessly. New Yorker may not be the largest studio but they certainly have an eye for details. This movie is not for everyone. Many will find it horrific, depressing and upsetting. But for those film lovers that want to be challenged emotionally War Zone represents a film that will be burnt into your memory forever.