you see Roland Emmerich’s name attached to an apocalyptic
science fiction film, you have every right to expect / dread a
collection of explosions, CGI disaster and plot clichés.
It is, after all, what the man had built his career on. But he’s
only the executive producer of the starkly named Hell,
and director / co-writer Tim Fehlbaum has come up with a rather
more interesting end of the world story, albeit one that is not
Set in a future where a catastrophic temperature rise has wiped
out civilisation and made food, water and fuel precious commodities,
the film follows a couple of sisters – Marie (Hannah Herzsprung)
and her younger (and, apocalypse be damned, still bratty) sibling
Leonie (Lisa Vicari), who are travelling in search of a better
life with the humourless Phillip (Lars Eidinger), who is initially
set up as the hero but is quickly revealed to be controlling,
cowardly and self-centred. Along the way, they pick up Tom (Stipe
Erceg), only to be attacked by raiders. With Tom and Leonie captured
– and a rescue plan going wrong – Phillip and Marie
make an escape, but Marie is determined to rescue her sister.
Abandoning the injured Phillip, she finds herself seemingly rescued
by a kindly woman Elizabeth (Angela Winkler). But it soon becomes
clear that her saviour is just as determined to look after her
own family as Marie is, and in the absence of both livestock and
breeding stock, will do whatever it takes.
Hell (German for bright, making it a curiously
appropriate title for both native and English speakers) is a slickly
made, rather low key post-apocalypse story – closer in feel
to the apocalyptic films of the 1970s than any big budget disaster
film or mutant-laden science fiction tale, with its dangers stemming
both from the relentless sun that will fry your skin if you are
exposed to it for any period of time, and the desperate survivors
who will do anything to stay alive. It has a well rounded selection
of characters – while it takes a while to get to know Marie,
who initially seems too cowed, Herzsprung manages to flesh out
her character nicely, even when the screenplay makes her do very
stupid things (even by movie standards of bad decisions, some
of her choices while trying to escape are bafflingly self-defeating).
The villains too are nicely nuanced – these are not monsters,
but desperate people doing what they can to help their family,
and the final moments suggest that there isn’t a huge difference
between Elizabeth and Marie in that sense.
Fehlbaum creates a suitably arid, lifeless world – his burned
out forests and scorched earth all too effective. Stylistically,
the film is nothing new – you’ve seen lots of films
that are shot just like this – but he is able to build a
degree of tension into his story and avoids overly flashy gimmicks
as his bleak story unfolds.
As post-apocalypse films go, Hell is a superior
example of the genre. Quietly chilling and thoughtful, it’s
the ideal antidote to the overblown, destruction heavy films that
its executive producer specialises in.
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