I went to see Daniel Barber‘s The Keeping Room last night, mostly due to prodding from Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. I’m not sorry I saw it as Barber and particularly dp Martin Ruhe, who collaborated on Harry Brown, are fans of flavor and especially handsome, subtly-lighted photography. It’s given a classy treatment with period trappings (rural South in 1865, the end of the Civil War) and a few meditative detours. The latter refers to interminable dialogue scenes that are only half-decipherable due to the actors speaking in a kind of whispery Southern drawl fry (especially when Hailee Steinfeld has the floor…good God). But the film is basically a cabin in the woods horror-violence flick about evil, almost-foaming-at-the-mouth Union soldier invaders trying to defile and murder three Southern women (Brit Marling, Steinfeld, Muna Otaru). Kohn bought into it but I didn’t. There isn’t the slightest trace of half-sensible motivation or recognizable humanity driving the bad guys (Sam Worthington, Ned Dennehy) — they’re just doing the old Jason Voorhees thing with a couple of rapes thrown in plus some personality sauce, period clothing, old rifles and so on. Marling delivers the most substantial performance but that’s almost damning with faint praise in this context. Say it again: I hate, hate, hate “evil” behavior that lacks a semi-discernible motive. Cut away the art-film pretensions and it’s clear that The Keeping Room is pandering to the slobs who like their exploitation tropes the way low-rent Los Angelenos like their pickles and mayonnaise at Fatburger. Final warning: Beware of filmmakers who love burning things (wagons, homes) around dusk — it’s a sure sign of hackery.