Three pregnant women are abducted by an anti-abortion group who bombard them with pro-life propaganda and intend to imprison them until they give birth.
Generally speaking, very few English language films dare to push an unequivocal political or moral message; Ken Loach being one of the better known directors whose films fall into that select category. In my personal experience American films almost never take an overt position, more often relying on the subtext to implicitly endorse family values, US foreign policy or the military. So when confronted with a film as defiantly and explicitly pro-life as THE LIFE ZONE I suppose I should be grateful that, at the very least, a film-maker is putting his money where his mouth is.
Unfortunately, the position that THE LIFE ZONE takes is so offensively reactionary and such an affront to reasoned debate, not to mention human rights and the rule of law, that anyone with an enlightened, 21st century attitude towards the issue of abortion is more likely to be appalled than entertained. Furthermore, the use of such a sensitive issue as the core of a simple piece of entertainment raises questions of taste and exploitation.
Things start harmlessly enough, as three young women – Lara (former Playboy centerfold Angela Little), Natalie (Nina Transfeld) and Staci (Lindsey Haun) wake up in what appears to be some sort of secure medical facility. Before they even begin to figure out where they are a giant monitor springs into life and the image of a sinister old man (Robert Loggia) tells them that he is their jailer. Then a shutter opens and an elegant middle-aged lady enters and introduces herself as Dr Wise (Blanche Baker, daughter of actress Carroll Baker). She explains that each of the women is pregnant and each has decided to have an abortion. Dr Wise represents an organization that is fiercely opposed to abortion and as such has spirited the women away from hospital to a secure location where they will be kept until they give birth. She adds that in the interim the women will be exposed to the arguments for and against abortion.
What this means for the viewer is that we get to watch lots of faked talking heads interviews and a staged abortion debate that is about as convincing as an industry training video. All of which would be reasonably amusing were it not for the fact that the film-makers aren’t interested in nuanced, or even balanced, debate. “You’re violating one of my fundamental constitutional rights” exclaims our Playmate, somewhat implausibly. “Rights?” replies Dr Wise, who is obviously not familiar with the Hippocratic Oath, “What about God’s rights?”
Yes, it’s that kind of film. There’s endless talk of the “magic moment” at which a foetus becomes a human being while the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which constitutionally enshrined a woman’s right to abortion, is given very short shrift. If you can imagine ROSEMARY’S BABY remade by Michele Bachmann then you’d be pretty close to what this movie is like. I hate to give away major plot points but in striving to tell you exactly how deplorable this rotten little film is I am obliged to mention that in the end two characters are sent to Hell – one of them for going through with her planned abortion and the other for committing suicide.
In the face of such arrant and insidious nonsense, comments about the acting, photograph, sets, etc. seem redundant. However, anxious to fulfill my duty as a critic, I will record that Angela Little is about as good an actress as I am a Playboy centerfold. Famous names like Robert Loggia, the late Charles Durning, Martin Kove and even Thomas G. Waites (Windows in John Carpenter’s The Thing) should either fire their agents immediately or be deeply ashamed of themselves. As a further warning to the curious, there is no horror in this film at all, despite the misleading promotional poster. Disgusting.
The Life Zone (2011)