Hell in the Family

The War Zone

For his directorial debut, the British actor Tim Roth (The Legend of 1900, Pulp Fiction) has chosen a most disturbing subject matter: incest. And he presents an unflinching portrait of it. The War Zone isn't easy to watch; uncompromising in its depiction of child abuse, it demands from its audience more than many people may wish to give. Based on a controversial novel by British writer Alexander Stuart, The War Zone concerns an outwardly normal, middle-class family that has just moved from London to the countryside. Bored and lonely, moody teenager Tom (newcomer Freddie Cunliffe) ends up spending most of his time with his older sister, Jessie (Lara Belmont, also making her acting debut). Tom and Jessie's parents (Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton) seem like a devoted couple who love their kids; there are no outward signs of dysfunction. But one day Tom happens to witness his father abusing Jessie (the audience is not shown what happens). Tom confronts his sister, who denies that anything untoward has happened. As the movie progresses, we see the terrible toll the father's monstrous actions take on the family. Revealing too much of a film's plot in a review isn't fair, but in this case the subject matter is so horrifying and its presentation onscreen so straightforward (and at times graphic) that prospective viewers should be alerted. The fact that it is so well acted, especially by Belmont and Winstone in the film's thorniest roles, makes it even more difficult to watch. Viewers should ask themselves how far they wish to go before entering The War Zone's harrowing territory.

 
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