Synopsis: Left without men in the dying days of the American Civil War, three Southern women – two sisters and one African-American slave – must fight to defend their home and themselves from two rogue soldiers who have broken off from the fast-approaching Union Army.
Release Date: October 30, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Movies about the American Civil War usually focus on the soldiers, the men fighting on the front lines. There was another side to the war, one that is explored in The Keeping Room.
Set in the South in 1965 right as the Civil War is winding down, The Keeping Room is about a trio of young women – Augusta (Brit Marling from Sound of My Voice), her younger sister Louise (The Homesman‘s Hailee Steinfeld), and a slave girl named Mad (Muna Otaru from “Whitechapel”) – who have been left alone while the men of the house have gone off to fight. When Louise wanders off into the woods, she is bitten by a raccoon and gets horribly sick. Augusta goes to town looking for medicine and runs into a couple of rogue Confederate soldiers named Moses (Sam Worthington from Avatar and Clash of the Titans) and Henry (Anna Karenina‘s Kyle Soller) who, knowing that the war is basically over and that the South has lost, have been travelling the countryside running amok on the residents. They follow Augusta back to the farm, and the three women are forced to pick up arms to defend themselves and their home from the maniacal renegade outlaws.
Written by Julia Hart (Miss Stevens) and directed by Daniel Barber (Harry Brown), The Keeping Room is a period movie that doesn’t feel like one; despite its 19th century setting, it has a very modern feel to it. What The Keeping Room boils down to is two Confederates and their dog attacking three women in their farmhouse. What the assailants don’t count on is how capable their victims are, and that’s where the drama becomes a conflict. The two soldiers are immediately hated by the audience; these are the types of guys who kill people just because they can. They’re real jerks. The women are already plagued by nightmares of the war, jumping in fright at the sound of every gunshot, aware that the war is coming to a close yet not yet realizing the statuses of their father or brothers who were off fighting. When they are forced to defend their home, they stand up straight and become their own protectors – pretty impressive for two southern gals and their slave girl.
The Keeping Room is a very powerful movie. It starts with a bang, its opening scene being one of the most horrifically affecting sequences in recent memory. After the attention-grabbing introduction, it becomes a bit of a slow burn, but it stays engrossing for the entire duration, building suspense and tension with each passing moment. It’s hard to watch, but it’s also hard to not watch. No matter who you are, The Keeping Room will have an effect on you. You’ll feel it.
Julia Hart’s screenplay for The Keeping Room is both genre-bending and gender-defying. Director Daniel Barber kept Hart involved throughout filming, so what she wrote in her script is pretty close to what ultimately ended up onscreen. The film is, at its core, a western, but it’s not a showdown-at-high-noon, black-hats-versus-white-hats kind of a western. It’s able to transcend typical siege movies like Rio Bravo (or Night of the Living Dead, or Assault on Precinct 13) by humanizing the characters, showing their flaws and weaknesses, and illustrating how they overcome them.
Which brings us to the gender-defying part; obviously, the heroes of The Keeping Room are the three women defending their home against the marauding soldiers. Hart’s screenplay portrays the women in a very real and genuine way. At one point, oldest daughter Augusta yells and barks orders at the slave girl Mad, but Mad, knowing that the war is essentially over and she is all but a free woman, stands up to her. It’s a tense moment early in the film that sets up the friction which the women must overcome as they work together to fight their common enemy later on. These gals are not Thelma & Louise, but they are all that each other has left. Little things like that bring an element of honesty and emotion to the story so that, with The Keeping Room, the audience isn’t just rooting for the damsels in distress – they’re rooting for the heroes, warts and all.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Daniel Barber
- Producer(s): Jordan HorowitzDavid McFadzeanDete MeservePatrick NewallJudd Payne
- Screenwriter(s): Julia Hart
- Cast: Brit Marling (Augusta)Hailee Steinfeld (Louise)Muna Otaru (Mad) Kyle Soller (Henry)Sam Worthington (Moses)Ned Dennehy (Caleb)Amy Nuttall (Moll)Nicholas Pinnock (Bill)Anna-Maria Nabirye (Alma)Luminita Filimon (Prudence)Delia Riciu (Mary)Zefir (Battle)
- Editor(s): Alex Rodriguez
- Cinematographer: Martin Ruhe
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Luminita Lungu
- Casting Director(s): Venus KananiGail StevensMary Vernieu
- Music Score: Martin Phipps
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA