Fantastic Fest 2015! Augustus Gloop Reviews THE KEEPING ROOM!

October 7, 2015
AintItCool - Published at: Oct. 6, 2015, 7:45 p.m. CST by Nordling
The Keeping Room was one of the first and best films I saw at Fantastic Fest this year. It was written by Julia Hart based on an idea that came to her when a friend recounted a family legend about two union soldiers buried in the yard of her farmhouse. Directed by Daniel Barber, it stars Brit Marling as a southern woman who must defend her home and ailing sister (Hailee Steinfeld) with the help of the family slave Mad (brilliantly portrayed by Muna Otaru) against invasion by two of William T Sherman's scouts (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller).
It is unique to see a film that presents  a picture of the Civil War from the perspective of a small farming family rather than the traditional dichotomy of wealthy plantation owners vs union industrialists. This brings to our attention something that is an uncomfortable and unpopular fact, which is that the war caused the suffering of untold numbers of people in the south. Not just the slave-owning elites in their mansions, but women and children left behind when their sons and husbands went to war, the poor sharecroppers who did not traffic in human lives, and the slaves themselves (perhaps especially the slaves) suffered as Sherman's strategy of total warfare raided food stores, burned forests, crops, and homes, forcing the displacement and threatening millions with starvation.
As Marling's character Augusta in a powerful and revealing moment chides her sister Louise (Steinfeld) who has attempted to assert superiority over Mad, "We all niggers now". Never wealthy, but once well-off, the family has been broken by the death of their mother to illness and conscription of their father and brother into the Confederate army. As the events of the film unfold, the relationship between the petulant Louise and Mad evolves poignantly through their shared experiences as childhood victims of white men, and Otaru's monologue as she recounts the horror of her youth is as worthy as any Oscar-winning performance I have ever seen. Hart's script makes no bones about the real monsters in the south.
Finally, I should make note of Sam Worthington's performance here which is a career-best. As loathsome as his character's deeds are, he manages to almost make you like him before his work is done. I'm afraid you'll have to see to understand. I think few people saw this at the fest, and fewer still were talking about it, but I was very pleased to see Drafthouse Films distributing it. I feel it is one of their most powerful releases to date.