The War Zone (1999)

I decided to check out The War Zone after seeing it on Colin Farrell's filmography (he is barely in the movie, by the way). Of course I didn't know anything about the movie itself and I thought it would be a(nother) boring war film. I couldn't have been more wrong as the film is not about war in the conventional sense. The title though is still very appropriate. 

Tim Roth's directorial debut film follows an unnamed family --a father (Ray Winston), a mother (Tilda Swinton), an 18-year-old daughter, Jessie (Lara Belmont) and a 15-year-old son, Tom (Freddie Cunliffe)-- who just moved from London to rural Devon. After his new sister is born, Tom learns that the relationship between Jessie and their father is more than it should be.

The story, which is based on Alexander Stuart's novel of the same name, is pretty simple and straightforward and it shouldn't be able to hold your attention for a long time, but it does as it is a tension-filled, complex, dark and disturbing story that deals with a difficult subject, incest, in a filterless way. The film doesn't shy away from showing what actually happens in and to families where sexual abuse is a reality and that is certainly something to praise about the movie.

The characters and their relationships are probably the best aspects of The War Zone though. While the characters aren't particularly strong or developed, there's a mystery surrounding their relationships that does wonders for the film. The desire for one another between the two siblings is only implied, which leaves us to decide whether Tom was motivated by love for his sister or jealousy of his father; whether he was trying to protect his sister or fight his father. We don't get to know Jessie's feeling toward her father. Did she ever enjoy it? Is that the reason why she was protecting him? Or did she just feel guilty, as if her father abusing her was her fault, which often happens with victims of abuse? Also, did the mother know anything about it? Was she just playing dumb? We don't get to know it, but it's this approach that leaves each viewer to his/her own interpretation that makes the film really work for me. I'm sure many people won't like this film for this very reason; for me, this is the reason it works.

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The performances are excellent. Freddie Cunliffe is extraordinary as Tom as he captures the boy's desperation, confusion and repression of feelings. Lara Belmont gives such a strong and compelling performance as Jessie --there's one scene in which she is crying, her emotions feel so real it's devastating. Ray Winston gives a strong performance as the abusive father and makes this monster disguised as a loving father very complex. At last, Tilda Swinton, who has the least screen time, is excellent as the mother.

Ultimately, The War Zone is not a film for everyone as it is extremely intense --the incest-sex scene in the bunker is unbearable and very hard to sit through. But it's also a powerful film that deals with its subject very well and most of all that treats its audience like intelligent adults.


  1. I don't think I will ever see this film but kudos to you for watching it. I can't

    1. I understand. I don't regret watching this film as it turned out to be great but some parts made me feel sick. I even cried at some point.