Monday, July 5, 2021

The Day Aftermath


Ever since the Sci-Fi Channel (as it was known, back in the ancient '90s) aired The Day After one sunny Saturday afternoon in my adolescence, I've been one of those weirdos with an unhealthy obsession on all things nuclear war. Born in 1982, I (probably thankfully) missed most of the actual Cold War scares, but a good decade or so later, the terrifying possibilities of a world made ill even after the fighting ended seemed like exciting nightmare content.

You'd think that the horrors of the last few years would make me slightly less enthused by this kind of content, and yet, on the morning I got my first Pfizer vaccine dose, I found myself thinking, "well, things are finally turning up, so how 'bout I entertain myself with something incredibly depressing?"

I have undiagnosed problems. That is accepted.

Quick Plot: Hunter, a medical student, is wandering through Kansas when a nuclear bomb hits the heartland. He quickly teams up with teenager Jennifer and her younger brother Satchel, who is instantly blinded by the blast. They're quickly joined by level-headed Elizabeth and find shelter in the basement of a farmhouse filled with a few others.

There's kind Jonathon, whose sick uncle Wendell owns the house, hot-headed Brad, and Brad's very pregnant wife Angie. They're soon joined by Jonathon's pal Rob, who brings horror stories of just how terrible the outside world and those still living in it have come to be.

Everyone gets sick and mostly die.

Seriously, that's the gist of Aftermath.

Sure, we have a few waves of attacks from the infected (who we're told are totally not like zombies in the movies, but who totally act like zombies in the movies) but basically, this is a story about a group of okay people who struggle to stay alive and have a horrible time of it. Think The Divide, but with less suspense.

Aftermath (also known as Remnants) is not a poorly made film. It makes decent use of a limited set, and more importantly, understands that its biggest strength is its experienced cast and their ability to craft specific characters in the little time they're given. C.J. Thomason is fine as the stalwart lead, Monica Keena's Elizabeth is a stabilizing force, Edward Furlong manages to find the layers in what could have been a one-note redneck stereotype, the always welcome Andre Royo (The Wire's Bubbles) is, you know, always welcome, and Ross Britz and Tody Bernard are a sweet daft nephew/dying uncle combo.

Directed by Peter Engert from Christian McDonald's script, Aftermath clearly cares about its characters and, well, probably wants us all to know that nuclear war is very bad. If you don't believe that and would prefer to have 90 minutes worth of skin peelings thrust in your face to really drive the point in, this is the film for you.

High Points
It would have been very easy to take more setup time, but Aftermath rather wisely springs into action, throwing everything (and everyone) at us so quickly in a way that lends a very effective urgency to the front-loaded pacing

Low Points
Whoever's decision it was to, out of nowhere, use freeze frames in Aftermath's climax should have to sit in a radiation-filled basement with Edward Furlong for at least one hour and think about what they've done

Lessons Learned
There are no "no smoking" laws in nuclear fallout shelters

Always keep a few extra books in the basement, unless, of course, you REALLY want to spend the rest of your life with The Wizard of Oz (not a bad way to go, actually)

As if we didn't already know this, remember: when the radiation poisoning sets in, life will be terrible and harsh and you'll have to work very hard to survive a very terrible and harsh life, so...I don't know, jump INTO the blast rather than away from it?

I can't think of anyone who would actually enjoy Aftermath. Again, let me be clear to say this is a finely made film, but it's so darn miserable that it's almost funny, but not with that deeper, world-weary importance of something like Threads. If that makes it attractive in any way, head to Amazon Prime!


  1. This sounds right up my alley. I'm excited to check it out. I've also never watched Threads, and you reminded me that maybe I should.

    On the topic of 80's nuclear war films, have you seen The Day After?

    I think it's just the right blend of 80's made for tv movie-ness and nuclear fallout. Very enjoyable. The full thing is available on youtube:

    1. Oh yes, The Day After might have been my true gateway into nuclear horror. That being said, it's been 20+ years since I watched it (I caught it airing on the SyFy Channel before it was even CALLED the SyFy Channel) so I actually owe it another viewing.

      Threads is basically the British version of The Day After, only 10x more disturbing. It's definitely worth your eyeballs!

    2. I finally got around to watching Threads, and you were right, definitely more disturbing than The Day After. So grim and depressing, too -- I loved it! Boy, it's nice to watch a film and come away actually feeling something. I almost watched a handful of new, vapid, disposable things on netflix tonight but am really glad I went with something more substantial. Three cheers for nuclear war!