Sean Ellis

Sean Ellis, pictured here at an Oscar nominees luncheon in 2006, is the director of such films as "Cashback" and his new psychological thriller-horror noir "The Broken" (starring "300"'s Lena Headey), which plays in the Midnight section of this year's Sundance Film Festival.  (Photo of Mr. Ellis: WireImage; photo of Ms. Headey: Gaumont)

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

PARK CITY, Utah -- January 23, 2008

Sean Ellis was on his way to catching a plane as he talked to a journalist here at the Prospector Square Theater, which was screening his new film "The Broken" -- the "o" in the title has a diagonal line through it -- which he said he had literally just finished. 

"I wanted a female perspective, I wanted to work with a female lead and I thought that the story was going to be an interesting one from a very strong female character.  Even though I imagined the idea in the first person, I never really imagined that it was going to be a guy as a lead," said Mr. Ellis, who hails from Brighton, in the south of England.

In "The Broken", Sean Ellis directs Lena Headey, the British actress American audiences know from the film "300".  Ms. Headey is Gena McVey, a woman who sees herself driving past in her own car while walking along a London street one afternoon.  In the true sense of the axiom "perception is reality", Gena has to confront her visions and what she thinks she sees, both within and without herself. 

Mr. Ellis' new film could be categorized as a horror film at heart, but placing it in that genre isn't so straightforward. 

"To be honest with you, I moved back towards the sort of films, the psychological horror films that I used to watch as a youngster, like "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Tenant" and "Don't Look Now" -- you know, more atmospheric and under the surface -- rather than waterskiing on a sea on gore and blood, which is sort of vogue right now," lamented Mr. Ellis, whose feature film romance drama "Cashback" (released in North America last summer) was based on his short film of the same title from 2005, for which Mr. Ellis garnered an Oscar nomination in the following year.

"Cashback" featured a male protagonist (played by Sean Biggerstaff) as an insomniac artist and moonlighting Sainsbury's store clerk who waxes poetic about his unabashed love of the female form, the beauty that is woman and the yearning of turning back or freezing time to capture love lost.  "Cashback" has a strong feminine center to it, particularly in the way that the male lead expresses his feelings, vulnerabilities and emotions about the woman he truly loves.

With "The Broken", Mr. Ellis makes Gina McVey the center of attention, as we see a woman fragmented, empowered, vulnerable and fearful right before our eyes (and her own.)  The French film distribution company Gaumont will handle the principal distribution rights worldwide, but as of this moment there is no news on when the film is scheduled to make its debut in the U.S. and Canada.  The new film was different for the director for a couple of reasons.  "It was a bigger budget so you there's responsibility there that you have to your backers, but more so, it was more of an exercise in atmosphere and it was very inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and I was always quite obsessed with trying to achieve a cinematic interpretation of what he obtained in his writing, i.e., the idea of horror is more horrific than the actual, it's what lies just beneath the surface and trying to maintain that and build it through 90 minutes was a challenging aspect to the film."

"It's been incredible to see it play in front of the audience -- the first audience that I saw it play in front of was the Sundance Film Festival, so it was incredible.  It was not only its world premiere, it was the first time an audience had seen it, and it had also screened on Edgar Allan Poe's birthday (January 19), so it was like this triple whammy of nice things going on," Mr. Ellis commented.

For any filmmaker a labor of celluloid love's greatest reward is not how a director feels about the film, but how the director's audience does, and for Mr. Ellis with "The Broken", there is no exception.

"It's funny, you work in a dark room for a year and a half and then you emerge and you sort of put it in front of an audience and I guess the test is how well you did.  And it's lovely to see an audience interact with your work, you know, and I definitely felt that on the screenings there was a dread, I think in some points in the audience, you know," the director reflected. 

"And the scares obviously work really well and you hear people scream or whatever, and you just think -- I guess it's like a comedian on stage getting laughs when he's on stage, you know.  It's fulfilling."

"The Broken" plays on Saturday January 26 at 9:15p.m. at the Holiday Village Cinema IV, in Park City, Utah.

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