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Dark, brooding and brutal, “The Keeping Room” features finely carved performances in a Civil War period piece that might as well be post-apocalyptic.

It’s 1865 and three women live on a southern farm. Older sister Augusta (Brit Marling) cares for somewhat petulant younger sister Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) while black servant Mad (Muna Otaru) cares for the both of them. With their father and brother off to war, the three are isolated and beaten down.

Meanwhile danger and madness approach in the form of two Union soldiers who’ve been sent ahead as northern troops slowly march their way southward, burning and pillaging. These two scouts are the serial rapist and drunk Henry (Kyle Soller) and his tight-lipped, but deadly partner, Moses (Sam Worthington).

When Louise is bitten by a raccoon, it soon becomes a matter of life and death — director Daniel Barber and screenwriter Julia Hart establish a good sense of how quickly things can turn dire in such stark times — and the beautiful Augusta rides off to the local semblance of a town to find some medicine.

What she finds instead are Moses and Henry drunk at the local tavern. After a tense stand-off there, she rides home to nurse Louise back to life. But the two soldiers sense vulnerability and set off on her trail. The resulting encounter is pretty much disastrous for all.

Multi-talented modern girl Marling (“Another Earth,” “I Origins”) dirties up quite nicely as the rifle-toting Augusta and Steinfeld (“True Grit”) brings stoic strength to the traumatized Louise. But it’s the little-known Otaru who brings the most heart and a savvy mix of sweetness and strength to this film. By the end, all three women have been transformed, even as the world burns around them.

tlong@detroitnews.com

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‘The Keeping Room’

GRADE: B

Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault

Running time: 95 minutes

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