The Keeping Room continues the long list of films that Britt Marling spins out in stunning fashion. The star of The East and Another Earth grinds through a story about three women standing up to all of the odds with passion and resilience. It helps that her director, Daniel Barber (Michael Caine’s 2009 thriller Harry Brown), delivers a powerful tale of race, wilderness, and family in the waning days of the Civil War.
Sisters Augusta (Marling) and Louise (Hailee Steinfeld, Barely Lethal, Pitch Perfect) have lost the men who they once relied on, but the force of evil descending on their rustic location brings a violent masculinity. While the sisters huddle up with their slave, Mad (Muna Otaru, Lions For Lambs), fighting through farming and animal-related struggles, two soldiers of the advancing Northern army are having their way with anyone who stands in their way.
As much as I like Sam Worthington (the Titans films, Avatar), he plays an out-and-out animal as one of the soldiers, Moses. His partner in crime, Henry (Kyle Soller, Fury, Anna Karenina), may be an even worse human being. These men represent the worst of a marauding force, the violence of men, and the promise of evil to expand into any space in which its allowed to move. But they never reckoned on these three women, and their ability to overcome the barriers that stand between them.
Augusta is the more progressive of the sisters; Louise, the younger of the two, thinks that Mad is still beneath her. In the context of the moments leading up to the conflict between the trio and the two soldiers, Louise proves to be insufferable. But it’s amazing how saving someone’s life can affect their view of you. Maybe, for Louise, she’ll find that Mad is human after all?
The Keeping Room is tense, quiet in between moments of violence, like The History of Violence or Drive. The Old West backdrop is what drew me in, but the courage of these women, to find their humanity in community and still repel evil, was inspiring. Jesus said that there was no greater love than to lay one’s life down for a friend (John 15:13), and that proves to be true for these women who defy expectations and rise up, together.