It should be prefaced that The Keeping Room is by no means horror, nor does it claim to masquerade as the genre. More of a tense thriller, which is of course the milder sister of the horror genre, the film builds a dense cloud of foreboding atmosphere with its two lead antagonists and the slow-build, old school, dark western-like appeal.
The film follows two sisters and their slave during the tail end of the Civil War, as they attempt to survive off of dying land and the eventual violent intrusion of two renegade Union soldiers out to satisfy their own dark desires. The story has a great deal nuanced throughout. The film touches on countless social issues, including racism and the psychological effects of war, but none as prominent as its strong feminist and sexist undertones.
What was most interesting about The Keeping Room had to be its bleak perspective on war without showing any actual war. And yet, it also found a way to be far more entertaining and tension-filled than anything from Jarhead. Despite relatively low screentime and dialogue, Sam Worthington plays a fantastic villain as he clashes in personality with his brother in arms. Though they share motive, they couldn't be further apart in personality. While the motive remains in tact throughout, and thereby leads the viewer to refrain from any conventional sympathy, Worthington manages to develop a sympathetic character of sorts...somehow...
The story definitely breaks the conventional tropes of home invasion movies. And as can sometimes be the case, the breaking of these tropes can go from surprising to disappointing. This isn't necessarily a criticism of the film, as much as it is an observation that your expectations will not be met because the cinematic conventions don't happen. It is most certainly what makes the film stick in the mind long after the film is over.
Films like this require strong acting and a consistent directorial approach to succeed, and this film delivers on both fronts. The entire cast delivers great performances and the director's minimalistic approach to film helped build the tension, especially early on. It is like a dark home invasion film meets a slow-burning western. It makes you feel dirty from the beginning and pensive by the end. Its detail is found in its subtlety and rich, essential dialogue. Though sometimes it felt like scenes were nothing more than filler, and the unconventional storytelling made the plot feel awkward or misplaced, the overall delivery told a story unlike anything we've watched recently.