Recuperating from Thanksgiving (during which I ate too much) and preparing for Christmas (probably more of the same), I decided to check out three recent post-apocalyptic films. It’s not typical holiday fare, I know, but already the seasonal tunes by The Carpenters and the like are beginning to get on my nerves. Time for a little doomsday.
As it turns out, all three movies are better than average for their type, well-made if not particularly original and well worth a look by fans of the genre.
The Day (2011), written by Luke Passmore and directed by Doug Aarniokoski, is a conscious riff on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Utilizing only a few snatches of vivid color in some flashbacks, the film is black-and-white for most of its running time, befitting the tone and setting. Five companions — three guys and two girls — trudge down a road over the credits, recalling the father and son’s endless odyssey in The Road as well as Rick and the gang’s trek in The Walking Dead.
There’s no explanation why the world has gone to hell, but food is the prime commodity in demand. Holing up in an isolated farmhouse, the few survivors think at first they’ve hit the jackpot, only to discover that they’ve merely taken the bait. There are others out there who are hungry as well.
While its initial premise is derived from The Road, the second half of The Day draws directly on Night of the Living Dead and Straw Dogs as the dwindling handful struggle to survive the siege. Though the filmmakers originally planned to go the zombie route, they wisely decided to make the besiegers ordinary (?) cannibals, which made them even more terrifying, particularly since their leader is a doting father trying to provide for his two kids. And boy, are they creepy!
The cast of good guys includes Shawn Ashmore (Iceman in the last X-Men movie) and Shannyn Sossamon of TV’s Wayward Pines and Sleepy Hollow. The most complex and interesting of the group (a real badass to have on your side) is played by Ashley Bell of The Last Exorcism. Despite the familiar set-up and general character types, The Day is well-crafted, saving its biggest surprise for the end.
Home to some of the most innovative filmmakers of the day, Denmark can now brag on its first post-apocalyptic zombie flick in What We Become (2015), written and directed by Bo Mikkelsen. For American viewers, the film unfolds like the opening episodes of Fear the Walking Dead. The focus is on the inhabitants of a middle-class Danish suburb who suddenly find themselves quarantined by the government in an effort to halt a terrifying new disease that kills its victims, then resurrects them as flesh-eating zombies.
Yes, it’s familiar, but What We Become is anything but trite, due largely to Mikkelsen’s direction and the appeal of Benjamin Engell and Ella Solgaard as the teens who discover one another just as their world becomes a nightmare. We’ve seen it all before, but the basic premise is still compelling. How would ordinary people react when everything and everyone they trusted (including the government) becomes a deadly enemy? What we could become in such a situation is quite scary, whether the monsters are make-believe zombies or real-life Nazis. The Danes should know.
Fans of Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things will definitely want to check out Hidden, the third film in this post-apocalyptic trilogy. Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers in 2012, the movie finally found limited release in 2015. But by then, M. Night Shyamalan had read the script and on that basis hired the brothers to write and produce some of the episodes for Fox’s Wayward Pines. Utilizing their television experience, the Duffers conceived Stranger Things, which was picked up by Netflix and became a surprise hit — Season Two is scheduled to air this summer.
Featuring only three characters, Hidden takes place mostly in an underground shelter where a family has remained secluded after some kind of catastrophic event has made life above ground lethal for them. For more than a year, the father Ray (Alexander Skarsgård), mother Claire (Andrea Riseborough) and their young daughter Zoe (Emily Alyn Lind) have tried to maintain a semblance of normality, always in fear of predators above. Eventually, though, a series of accidents forces the family’s emergence.
Though not as good as the similarly themed 10 Cloverfield Lane, for a first movie Hidden is still effective, creating a palpable sense of dread and suspense about the nature of the threat aboveground. The originality is mostly plot-generated with the real payoff coming in the genuinely surprising twist finale.
I offer you these three alternatives to yet another rerun of It’s a Wonderful Life. If you are so inclined — for stranger things, that is.