Monday, April 29, 2013

It's Getting Hot In Here

Apocalyptic thriller streaming on Netflix?


Quick Plot: Somewhere in Europe where people speak in German, the world has experienced a devastating solar storm that has rendered society into a wasteland. Water and fuel are scarce, while the sun now beats down with violently hot burn-inducing rays.

And sadly, there is no leather.

Enter a car of survivors: Marie, a resourceful young woman who resembles Asia Argento's gentler twin, her younger teenage sister Leonie, and Philip, the man who has helped to keep them alive and, we gather, Marie's bed warm. At a scavenged gas station, they adds another member: Tom, a mysterious but useful straggler. Some car trouble and chaotic kidnappings later, the group is separated, with Marie finding suspicious shelter in a farm commune.

When I first started Hell, I was instantly impressed. The film immediately establishes its societal crumble with subtle visuals and implied tone. Though we never get much history from the characters, Hannah Herzsprung conveys a plucky strength that we easily root for in Marie, while her tricky relationship with a bratty kid sis and merely suitable romantic partner lends complicated tension. Early on, Philip points out that Marie needs to put Leonie "under control," a statement with tricky undertones about hierarchy that are later amplified by Marie's family values-minded new group. The screenplay never quite steps up to confront its ideas about gender politics during survival of the fittest, but the hints of discussion are intriguing on their own.

Unfortunately, Hell isn't quite up to the challenge of being a truly deep philosophical analogy, which would okay if the film didn't also hesitate on the action end. Somewhere between the panoramic father/son drama of The Road and coldly detached Time of the Wolf, Hell is the kind of film that's easier to appreciate than it is to enjoy. First-time filmmaker Tim Fehlbaum creates an incredibly strong and striking world, but with such a small scope, you expect the human element to matter more. While Herzsprung's Marie has a wonderful presence, her relationship with the bratty Leonie never resonates as deeply as it should (because, you know, the kid’s kind of a brat), while Philip's flaws are too easily brushed over. Between the created world and intriguing characters, there’s plenty of interesting potential that’s just never really tapped.

High Notes
Between the almost sepia suntones and graying vegetation, the apocalyptic environment of Hell truly does look great

Low Notes
You know, the fact that nothing is really going on

Lessons Learned
Birds always know where the water is

Jump starting a car is a lot easier than it sounds

No matter how far into the future you go, no man will ever evolve far enough to not be confounded by the complications of a net

If your prisoner keeps trying to escape, perhaps you should keep someone on watch

Obsessive post-apocalypse compulsives such as myself will certainly get something from Hell. The visual design itself makes it worth a watch, although the actual narrative leaves a whole lot to be desired. Queue it up on Instant Watch if you’re in the mood for some effective end of the world atmosphere and keep an eye out for Fehlbaum’s future (and hopefully more fully realized) efforts.


  1. Like you, I too am drawn to apocalypse cinema, and Hell is one that's been low on my radar. Even if it's not as engaging as it could be, I would likely enjoy the visual elements, so I'll give it a watch at some point.

  2. I think you'll dig aspects of it. The filmmaking is genuinely impressive, even if the story wanders into no man's land.

  3. Like your good self and Matt, I loves me some post-apocalyptic celluloid shenanigans. You’ll have to forgive me though, when I first started reading your review (after seeing “From Roland Emmerich, the director of The Day After Tomorrow and 2012” emblazoned on the DVD cover), I thought it was actually directed by him. I thought he had directed a film with ‘undertones about hierarchy’ and ‘gender politics’ and got quite intrigued/excited. Alas, he just produced it – but it still sounds like something I might like. Great review – especially enjoyed your astute observation about people always being confounded by the complications of a net; regardless of how far into the future they live! Pesky nets.

  4. I completely forgot about the Roland Emmerich connection. I didn't even notice it during the opening credits, so I have no idea how heavy his involvement was. If you put this and a pile of other streaming genre films in a bucket and told me to pick the Emmerich-produced one, I'm fairly certain I'd fail.

    NETS! The REAL bringers of the apocalypse!