Drafthouse Films Spotlight: THE KEEPING ROOM [Two Cents]

 

Two Cents
Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

This week Marvel fans were finally able to snap up Civil War on Blu-ray, a film which continues the comic studio’s tradition of well-crafted, incredible tentpole entertainment. Civil War should always be so fun.

Well, it ain’t. Set at the tail end of the US Civil War, The Keeping Room is the harrowing story of a trio of young women – two sisters and their slave – defending their homestead against a pair of Union soldiers on an alcohol and testosterone-fueled rampage of rape and murder. By focusing on noncombatants, maintaining a female perspective, and taking a realistic approach to addressing race, The Keeping Room manages to be not only a unique Civil War tale, but also a home invasion thriller in a novel way that we’ve not seen before.

The Keeping Room‘s feminine focus is evident not only in its three lead actresses and their characters, but a script by Julia Hart, whose new film as both writer and director, Miss Stevens, opens in theaters today.

The film drew strong mixed reactions from our team, so we’d love to hear your own thoughts. Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

Not to sound cocky, but we now embark on what is perhaps the wildest dickumentary we’ve ever had the balls to select as a Two Cents prick. The Final Member is a strange look at the real life story of the founder-curator of the Icelandic Phallological Museum – that’s right, a penis museum. His collection includes species from all over the world, but is missing one in particular: the elusive human horn.

Yes, it’s true: this museum has no dick.

The film has been described as hilarious and bizarre, and it also introduces us to the two men who volunteer their anatomy. Which will be erected into history, and which will be sent packing? Whose will be the final member, and who will get the shaft? Join us as we find out! At 82 minutes, it’s not too long.

Here’s the deadline schedule for the rest of this month’s Drafthouse Films Spotlight. All of these titles are currently available streaming on Netflix:
9/22 – The Final Member
9/29 – The Look Of Silence

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co!

The Team

Alex:Despite selling itself as a feminist Western, The Keeping Room isn’t entirely successful at fulfilling that claim, making many of its sweeping statements through clunky dialogue and landing on a questionable thesis. More troubling is how the film’s message of independence skirts around the fact that Mad is a slave, which is barely remarked upon, let alone grappled with in any meaningful way. While The Keeping Room allows its female leads an admirable amount of agency, its message boils down to “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” and this already questionable conclusion is pushed into laughable territory by manifesting itself in a painfully on-the-nose bit of dialogue.

The Keeping Room is exceptional for its bold thematic ideals, but the film’s hamfisted execution keeps it from ever being more than passable. All of the rebellious spirit and progressive politics in the world don’t make for good cinema unless there’s a strong set of characters to express them, and the most damning criticism of The Keeping Room is that it doesn’t fully come to life until the male villains arrive on the scene. While Barber and Hart clearly delight in subverting the archetypes of the Western genre, their deflation of cowboy tropes is undercut by the script’s inability to present a compelling alternative, and The Keeping Room sadly goes down as proof that the road to mediocrity is paved with good intentions.

Excerpted from Alex’s Fantastic Fest review. (@AlexWilliamsdt)

Austin:I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to call it “bleak”, but there are some truly gut-wrenching moments in The Keeping Room that had me feeling squeamish. Throughout the film, there’s a sense of dread as we await the inevitable – a couple of Union soldiers are tearing through the countryside raping and/or murdering anyone they encounter, and eventually they’re going to run into these three women – sisters Augusta and Louise and their slave Mad – left alone in a big, empty house because their menfolk have gone off to fight.

Despite the film’s thriller and action aspects, which are well done, it’s the conversational character moments that resonate the most. In one particular scene, Augusta and Mad share a bottle of moonshine, and as the liquor eases their spirits and loosens their tongues, we get the sense that this is perhaps the first time they’ve ever spoken to each other with a sense of friendship or solidarity.

The film’s handling of race is handled with deft candor. With obviously noble intentions, many modern films about the age of slavery are sure to establish that their white protagonists are not racists or slaveowners – and rightly so, in most cases. But The Keeping Room is more honest about the time and its people, while still clearly condemning racism – the sisters are racists in accordance with the societal norms of the times, but as they go through their ordeals, the three women bond and their prejudices begin to give way to understanding. (@VforVashaw)

Justin:Normally I try to say nice things, even about films I don’t like. I’m far too tired to care about that today. I’m exhausted and worn down.

“Why so tired?” you ask.

“Why do you think?” I reply.

Still don’t know? Well it’s because this film, even at 94 minutes, is so goddammed long. It’s one of those films that feels 3 times longer than it is. Nothing about it could keep my attention. Honestly, the story was fine, it looked good, blah blah blah… but, I was still terribly bored. Thus, I am exhausted from just enduring this film.

I’m usually far more interested in most Drafthouse releases, but this did literally nothing for me. And, after last week’s selection this was nothing other than extremely disappointing. (@thepaintedman)

Brendan: I hate to just say a movie is boring and leave it at that but… The Keeping Room is boring and I don’t have a ton more to say about it. They use one of my least favorite aesthetic choices by having the entire cast mutter-whisper every line of dialogue, even in scenes when two people are just having a conversation in the middle of the day. The performances are all good, or at least they would be if any of these characters were more than a mush-mouthed cipher. Some of the home invasion stuff almost works, but the film keeps falling back to its one trick: Having a character in the middle of the frame suddenly shot from someone offscreen. They do this “shock” move over and over again, to the point that it becomes utterly meaningless. I love when films take a more intimate look at sweeping moments of history, but this one is still-born. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!

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the author

Austin Vashaw is a technology and new media professional in Overland Park, KS (a Kansas City 'burb). Film yakker, wisecracker, tact lacker, and BK Stacker snacker; lover of photography, Victorian literature, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. @VforVashaw | letterboxd.com/VforVashaw