Details: (M), 89 mins, Germany,
Synopsis: Literally translated as ‘bright’, this futiristic film takes place in a world where food is scarce, it doesn’t rain and the sun is all-consuming. Two sisters and a male friend exist in this tough environment, looking for meagre scraps for survival.
Apocalyptic road movie lives up to its name. In a good way.
FESTIVAL OF GERMAN FILM: The ‘post-apocalyptic road’ movie continues to offer up fresh perspectives on life as-we-are-yet-to-know-it and director Tim Fehlbaum’s Hell is up there with the best of this seemingly inexhaustable genre. From the defining works Soylent Green and Mad Max to more recent nerve-janglers like The Road, The Book of Eli and 28 Days Later, the barren wasteland that is our near-future makes for metaphorically-rich, ultra-creepy cinema of the bleakest kind; Fehlbum’s unambiguously-titled thriller mines all those elements for maximum effect.
The Swiss-born, Munich-trained director’s future landscape has been scorched by solar flares, reducing once-lush European woodlands to grey deserts of ash. The surviving humans have divided into marauding tribal sub-groups, scurrying about in the shadows to avoid the scorching glare. Marie (Hannah Herzsprung) and her younger sister Leonie (Lisa Vicari) have banded together with Philip (Lars Eidinger), travelling the deserted highways in a constant search for water and petrol (that cars and batteries still work in Fehlbaum’s world, suggests this dour existence is not so far away).
A chance encounter with a lean, mean Tom (Stipe Erceg) expands the group, but soon their numbers are reduced when Leonie and Tom are captured by nomadic savages. Philip shows his true colours and wants to flee, but Marie won’t abandon her sister; she trudges to an encampment that seems idyllic but is soon revealed to be far removed from the sanctuary it presents.
Falling into two very distinct parts, Hell works best when it glimpses the humanity that our heroes have had to conceal in order to perform animalistic acts of survival. The first half of Fehlbaum’s film excels at creating both a vivid future-world and, more importantly, a set of believable characters to inhabit it. Herzsprung is wide-eyed but never naive, and because of hat, her third act heroism seems entirely plausible; 15 year-old Vicari, a stunning young actress despite being layered in grime, is the warm, crucial heart of the film (and which, frankly, Kodi Smit-McPhee’s similar character in The Road failed to provide).
The second half takes place entirely within the compound, peopled by a rather too-civilised cult overseen by matriarch Bäurin, played by veteran actress Angela Winkler. Her performance, much like Fehlbaum’s handling of this passage, dips a little too often into horror-movie caricature; away from the glare of the burning sun and the parched fields, Hell becomes Hostel. Tropes abound (the heroine who escapes but heads back into the mysterious ‘barn’; the reveal as to exactly how Bäurin and her clan stay so ‘well-fed’) and, whilst undeniably tense in parts, hog-tie the third act. Hell only really regains its momentum when key characters flee into the blistering sun - a terrifically-staged sequence that jolts the film back to life.
Deeply moral at its core, the script (which Fehlbaum co-wrote with Thomas Wöbke and Oliver Kahl) is sparse but profound; words to these characters, often the only reminder of their past civility, are as valuable and life-enriching as the drops of water for which they scrounge.
ndicating everyone involved was convinced this was top-notch genre material, cinematographer Markus Förderer was justly rewarded for his work at the highly-regarded 2011 SITGES Film Festival and Hollywood power-player Roland Emmerich (Independence Day; Godzilla; The Day After Tomorrow; 2012) executive-produced, returning to his homeland film industry for the first time in 20 years.
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