The world suffers the consequences of nuclear war, and several people (Lauren German, her weak husband Ivan Gonzalez, Milo Ventimiglia, his half-brother Ashton Holmes, Michael Eklund, Courtney B. Vance, and Rosanna Arquette among them) seek refuge in the basement of their surly apartment landlord, Michael Biehn. The door has been sealed to prevent the leakage of radiation, and the supplies, although relatively plentiful, aren’t going to last forever. People slowly start to lose all sense of themselves and rational thought, especially when suspicion grows that Biehn (whose racism seems to stem from a personal trauma from say, oh...around 2001 perhaps) might have a secret stash of supplies he’s not keen on sharing. Meanwhile, two of the tenants in particular (Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund) degenerate to their most primal (and unrestrained) instincts.
Well this one sure is a kick in the teeth of a film. Not so much a horror film as a story of Nuclear Holocaust survival (or George Romero meets “Lord of the Flies”), this offering from director Xavier Gens (“Hitman”) is nonetheless a frightening, extremely unpleasant, and gruelling experience. I’m not exactly sure I liked it, but I’m not sure if I was even meant to. It is, however, a film I’m not likely to forget in a hurry.
The film opens up in spectacularly nuclear fashion and continues to startle throughout, even though the bulk of the film is in one setting, and somewhat stagey. The cast is full of familiar names and faces, which is a good thing for a film with perhaps two too many characters. It’s extremely harrowing material, with everyone either going to seed or at least looking incredibly grotty and increasingly gaunt. Rosanna Arquette’s role, I must admit, perhaps crosses the line into becoming rather demeaning, and there’s some slightly heavy-handed post-9/11 symbolism with another character.
That said, Milo Ventimiglia gives a frightening performance unlike anything he’s ever done before, whilst Michael Biehn is terrific in a tricky but forceful part (the man has aged impeccably well too), and the underrated Michael Eklund (who apparently improvised a great deal) might just steal the show as the precise kind of human being you do not want to be stuck with while waiting out a nuclear holocaust situation. He’s equal parts hilarious, pathetic, annoying, and disgusting. How he hasn’t gone on to bigger and better things boggles my mind. The film is worth seeing just for the scene where he brings up the situation depicted in “Alive” and instructs everyone that his penis is not to be eaten. But the longer the film goes on, the less funny and more downright unsettling and abhorrent he becomes.
I must say that Lauren German looks far too healthy throughout, and Courtney B. Vance is completely wasted in a role he probably only got because someone confused him with Charles S. Dutton. Other than his role, the rest of the characters are pretty interesting, which is always a good thing in a genre film. The cinematography by Laurent Bares (the also effective “The Pack”) is also of the dull brown variety, which isn’t a good idea for such a one-setting film, if you ask me. The Carpenter-esque music score by Jean-Pierre Taieb is, however, really strong.
This film is likely going to be too much for some audiences. It’s harrowing, immensely unpleasant, and a bit static. I found it ugly but compelling and quite frightening, not to mention frighteningly plausible in terms of the characters’ behaviour. The ending in particular is completely disheartening in the best way possible.
Wow, I was really shocked by this one, though it’s fair to warn you that this plays as more drama than horror or thriller. If you understand that, and have a tolerance for some pretty disturbing and unpleasant expressions of human behaviour, this film is pretty damn impressive.