The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - APOCALYPSE ROAD | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - APOCALYPSE ROAD

apocalypse road review
Two sisters seek sanctuary in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Brett Bentman

Starring: Katie Kohler, Ashlyn McEvers, Nellie Sciutto, Lance De Los Santos, Billy Blair

apocalypse road poster

In both cinema and television, the end of days has been represented, rehearsed and rehashed so many times that our eventual Armageddon is in danger of being overfamiliar. Not so much apocalypse now as apocalypse always; even before the inevitable moments when the end of the world eventually occurs (which it will, I’m afraid) we’ll be so over it and the ensuing dystopia will have a similar lack of ceremony as watching reruns of The Walking Dead. Not a bad thing, perhaps, where the resilience of the human race is concerned (an obvious reading: the compulsive return to dystopia is a self-facilitated cultural training for what we subconsciously understand as unavoidable, and at the very least The Walking Dead reinforces useful titbits such as, say, the importance of tinned goods), but extremely dull for the cinematic zeitgeist.

apocalypse road

Perhaps an auxiliary reason for the repeated depiction of civilisation’s end is the visual set which dystopia entails. Apocalypse has the potential to look striking across all cinematic production values: while Roland Emmerich’s mega-budgets can stretch to the irresistible spectacle of CGI oceans swallowing a city, the cheaper option can also be as arresting in its own small way through careful choice of location and set dressing (shout out for my boy George Romero, RIP). And so, to Brent Bentman’s (writer/director/producer) Apocalypse Road, an impressive independent take on the dystopia trope which, against all odds, manages to forge an intimate and indeed original look at the end of the world.

Like the rudiments of post-apocalyptic life, the premise of Apocalypse Road is necessarily simple. Two sisters (Natalie and Sarah, Katie Kohler/Ashlyn McEvers) eke out an existence after some unexplained disaster has decimated large swathes of the population and left functioning society to the dogs (and marauding gangs). As in The Road (this film’s closest touchstone, a comparison acknowledged by the title) the goal of the young women is to simply reach the coast, a placebo objective that has more to do with creating purpose than achieving sanctuary, as early on a character makes it clear that no assistance is to be found there. If there is an optimistic quality to the dystopic text, it’s that it serves to remind us of the importance of trust, of love and human community; at one point a character plaintively states, ‘perhaps we can keep each other safe, what more can you ask for?’. In the post-apocalyptic landscape there is no justice: there’s just us, and thus the film’s conflict occurs when the sisters get split up.

apocalypse road

As Natalie and Sarah attempt to relocate each other, their fortunes depend upon the kindness or cruelty of the strangers they come across (and, in the film’s darker, more honest moments, their own moral compromises). Of course, it is men and their brute strength who initially seem to have the run of the land, the social contracts which ordinarily prevent certain males from behaving like utter pricks having conveniently evaporated (Sarah, having been captured by a bunch of likely lads, is leeringly forced to strip naked). But Bentman’s pessimism runs deeper than kneejerk misandry: it transpires that a weird but organised cult is run by women who are just as terrifying as the lads-on-tour gang. This is equal opportunities malevolence, as Bentman bracingly presents women not as token victims, but humans who are just as capable of cruelty and megalomania as anyone else.

apocalypse road

Bentman also largely eschews action for deeply felt character interaction (no stupid zombies here), and when violence does inevitably occur, it is not cathartic or gory, but simply and pointlessly sad. Just as refreshing is the appearance of the film; the indie apocalypse has never looked so good. Avoiding a cliché ‘tramp chic’, cinematographer Michael Ray Lewis’ frames are full of sunshine and colour, an ironic mise-en-scene that emphasises the character’s loss (why would the sun stop burning just because humankind naused up, after all?). Bentman compliments the vibrancy of Lewis’ photography by choosing superb, diverse locations for his camera to crouch, leap and weave about in. Ambitious, inventive and resilient, with credible performances and a powerfully realised emotional core, Apocalypse Road is indie cinema at its most creative and exciting.

Apocalypse Road is on VOD December 5th.