Tim Roth's controversial directorial debut, The War Zone, captures the desolation and gloom of the English countryside with an uncanny eye. The vast, overcast skies seem to speak of impending doom or hidden terrors, except 'terror' is too exciting a word to describe the kind of inevitable, mundane horror, like the South London wifebeater Winstone plays in the de facto companion piece, Nil By Mouth, which shares having both a gritty and uncompromising English setting and being the solitary directing effort from an established actor (to date). Even the scenes set back in London share the same quiet desperation in the locations of a scraggy dive and a tower-block council flat, where an awkward, aborted seduction takes place.
The War Zone has numerous beautiful landscape shots, especially on opening and closing, but their beauty doesn't stop them being depressing as hell.
A London family relocates to a ramshackle farmhouse and experience turbulence as a new baby girl is born amidst a car accident and dad and his first daughter seem a little too close for comfort. Told through the eyes of the son Tom, the classicly glum and sullen, gangly teen, who already feels isolated at being taken from his old life and dumped in the middle of nowhere, he becomes understandably upset as his relations with his family deteriorate after discovering the secret.
Ray Winstone who usually seems incapable of playing anything but the cockney wide-boy (three-dimensional or not), yet displays here a range in the difficulties of fatherhood (outside of incest) and in his dealings with business people on the phone, catering for what he thinks they expect to hear and proves that he's capable of more than that fackin' accent.
Colin Farrell makes a brief appearance as the local catch who woos Jess to the beach and the war-time pill box, later the scene for the abuse between Jess and her father, but does little besides looking pretty and not sounding Irish.
In keeping with it's 'challenging' indie roots, the main cast all spend some time in states of undress in a decidedly non-tittilating fashion.
Choice quote: "Does he do it up your arse all the time?"
The War Zone can justifiably be called bleak and uncompromising, but despite the controversy surrounding its release, the child abuse/incest is only betrayed as a terrible act, though it's a shame that more isn't made of the father's motivations - leaving him little more than a self-denying monster.
Throughout the film you get the sense that there's something missing in the family home, with the strained, awkward silences as they slouch in the living room, and it took an hour before it struck me - they don't have a telly. Whether it was a part of the back-to-nature impulse of the characters or not, it sends a clear message that if you don't get a TV for the family to sit around, you will Rape Your Kids.