The War Zone is an almost unbearably visceral film. With pitch-perfect performances, surpassing I Spit On Your Grave in its shuddering, sickly impact. Of course, that's an unfair comparison, as I Spit On Your Grave is a horror film with exploitation at its forefront. Yet The War Zone is just as direct in its squeamishness.
Tim Roth handles the material well, and Ray Winstone's performance as the deceptively kindly, seemingly befuddled father is particularly intense. But it is difficult to avoid asking why this film was made, and why you are still watching it.
It was JG Ballard who argued most effectively that sexual perversion is the result of boredom. The family of The War Zone is both bored and boring. They move from London to the remote country, a place washed with grey. The father is constantly on the phone asking after building work. They apparently own no television or radio, and the bookshelf is sparsely populated. The house is cold, grimy and full of dark corners.
Father, mother (Swinton), brother Tom (Cunliffe) and sister Jessie (Belmont) drift between cups of tea.
In these doldrums an affair of sexual trysts and pornography hatches between the father and his 18-year-old daughter Jessie . Their performances are achievements of denial and density, the characters' unknowable motivations buried so deep that the actors resonate darkness.
Their secret is discovered early on by the 15-year-old Tom. He struggles with the bottomless horror of this knowledge, as simultaneously he struggles with his pubescent eruptions. Played by Freddie Cunliffe as a young man descended into oblivion just as he should be gaining ground, Tom's struggle becomes the viewer's.
In the son's journey also becomes apparent the dire reason for the film's existence. We live in times of such sexual freedom that to see the very limit is sobering. This sight of the grotesque causes reconsideration of our present loose limitations. Extreme perversion as it is, it certainly casts in a dim light any grim pursuit of sexual satisfaction.
The War Zone provides a healthy dose of depression with a lasting effect. The impact draws the viewer to conservatism, and casts society's obsession with sex and the sexualisation of all, as deeply distasteful.