The War Zone

Critics Consensus

With the well-acted The War Zone, debuting director Tim Roth finds moments of beauty in a tale of stark horror -- and marks himself as a talent to watch behind the camera.

84%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 31

83%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,232
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Movie Info

The molten emotional power that flows from Tim Roth's directorial debut carries multiple messages that sear one's soul. Yet it also faithfully portrays one of the harshest aspects of the relationship between children and parents. Based on an acclaimed novel by Alexander Stuart, The War Zone is an often-troubling exposition on family dynamics and the dysfunction that bubbles beneath the surface. Award winning actors Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton, along with complete newcomers Lara Belmont and Freddie Cunliffe, give such incredibly deep and intense performances that one is definitely riveted (almost painfully so) to the screen. The family has just resettled in the Devon countryside from London, and fifteen-year-old Tom is bored and lonely, while his eighteen-year-old sister, Jessie, seems much more comfortable in the new surroundings. When "mum" gives birth to the family's third child, despite a near-tragic car accident on the way to the hospital, all appears to be well. But this happy event is shattered when Tom stumbles upon a horrific scene, and in short order the appearance of normality is unmasked, and any semblance of trust and kinship is threatened. Director Roth designs an inexorably desperate drama that questions the very fabric of family life even as it eschews pat explanations or psychological reduction. With an extraordinary feel for the banality of real-life evil and an almost-claustrophobic jolt of narrative truth, The War Zone stays with you long after you have left the theatre.

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Critic Reviews for The War Zone

All Critics (31) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (26) | Rotten (5)

Audience Reviews for The War Zone

  • Apr 23, 2014
    It's incredibly rare to see an actor's first feature as a director be so incredibly disturbing and touching on a very controversial subject such as incest and sexual violence. And the fact that it does so in such a subtle and complex way, with more and more information gradually being revealed as the movie goes on, weaving an even deeper and more complex tale of incest, makes it all the more disturbing and harrowing to watch. The film slowly builds up to its natural climax by, like I said, slowly revealing more bits of information, each bit worse than the last, until you get to the climax where the father does a pretty goddamn despicable thing and how that pushes Tom to take action in order to protect Jessie, his mother, and his newborn sister. The acting reflects this very subtle and complex storytelling. Though I did find Freddie Cunliffe to be a little lifeless and wooden, yes I realize his character was supposed to be unemotional but he doesn't quite pool it off. See Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine for how to do an unemotional performance properly. But Lara Belmont is absolutely incredible in this film and her performance is heartbreaking and multi-layered at the same time. Who knows how many years she's been sexually abused by her father, but the way she acts towards him during the climax of the film implies that it's been going on for quite a while. She's just incredible here and I'm surprised that her career hasn't taken off after this, she hasn't been attached to many high-profile projects in her career. And that really surprises me, because with her performance here, it should've made her a star. Maybe she didn't really want the hassle of being famous. Still, she is the heart and soul of this film and her performance will haunt you for a while. The cinematography in the film is certainly lacking, as I'm assuming the film didn't have a large budget, but it's certainly a minor issue. I think there'll be those that won't watch the movie just because of the way it looks, but it is an excellent drama with tremendous acting and I'd definitely recommend it.
    Jesse O Super Reviewer
  • Jun 21, 2012
    A tight knit English family moves from London to the isolated Devon countryside where the formative young son accidentally discovers that Dad is seriously violating Sis ... about the hardest look at the inner workings of dysfunctional family politics as I've ever seen. Not for everyone by any stretch. Roth's directorial premiere is eyeball scorching, gut churning stuff.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • May 03, 2012
    Accusations of incest surface in an isolated family. This is a remarkably dark drama. The pace is slow and the mood is always heavy. While I understand that the story and subject matter fit the dreary atmosphere, I couldn't help but think that I'd rather slit my wrists than continue watching. There is little energy behind most of the performances, which often amount to pensive, angry looks in steady shots. This is true save Ray Winstone, whose character has life and a humanity despite his depravity. The one compelling moment is in the third act when Tom finally confronts his father with his suspicions. Winstone gets to show off his talent, but the rest of the cast is left in the miasma of the film's heavy climate.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Dec 26, 2011
    Tim Roth's debut "The War Zone" is one of the more depressing movie-watching experiences I've had. It offers us a harsh and unflinchingly brutal look at incestual relations between a father and daughter and the effects it has on the son, who witnesses all of it in action. Never is any of what you see easy to stomach, yet you will find yourself oddly attracted to the screen. This is largely due to the powerhouse performances (especially from Ray Winstone in a gruesome and profane tyrade) and the bold direction from Tim Roth, who shows us what he wants us to see, never holding back and never lacking audacity. "The War Zone" may sag in a few spots, but for the most part, this is a tense and enticing watch.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer

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