20 Years After starts off as an interesting construction of the apocalypse. Some guy, Michael, is broadcasting over the shortwave to an apparently barren and irradiated landscape somewhere in the former U.S.A. The last pregnant girl turns up, living in a burned-out basement with her mother. They all go on an adventure to find some other guy who’s broadcasting across the desolate, irradiated landscape with a crazy old retired history professor with a melted ear. I’m on board to this point.
Then it gets weird in the 20 Years After universe. The crazy old ex-history professor turns out to be magical. Then there’s a magical witch living somewhere deep in an old industrial complex. The magical witch runs around poisoning people and scheming to thieve the world’s last baby away from the world’s last pregnant girl. I don’t get that bit at all. Stealing babies in the apocalypse is completely beyond me. There’s more to it than that, but that’s enough to give you an idea of the general weirdness of this piece of work.
All things considered, the post-apocalyptic landscape is fairly convincing. There are a few scenes in the first half of the film that give you that inspiring TEOTWAWKI kind of feeling. The actors are fairly watchable, if not entirely interesting. If you’re really jonesing for an end of the world flick that you haven’t seen, 20 Years After might fit the bill in the moment.
On the other hand, the people responsible for this flick (Jim Torres and Ron Harris, I suppose) have committed one of the most egregious atrocities in the apocalyptic genre: they’ve turned Armageddon into a faerie tale. The 1994 miniseries The Stand, based on the Stephen King novel, was guilty of exactly the same thing, but with better actors, writing, and direction. There’s no brave new world in 20 Years After. It’s a small story which breaks the rules of the genre and comes out the worse for the effort.