Hell (2011)

Rating: OK.Hell is a film about the end of the world following some catastrophic solar malfunction, but it’s at least as much an art-house  horror flick. Initially it comes across as a Teutonic rendition of The Road (2009), which is the most relentlessly pessimistic SHTF flick I’ve seen to date and one I’d resolved never to watch again even though I do own a copy. About halfway through, the apocalypse of Hell gives way to horror themes as a band of sullen cannibals try to abduct and slaughter the main characters.

Hell (2011)The overall vision of apocalypse in Hell is credible, but it’s a tedious and plodding sort of apocalypse. People are pretty much scurrying around in the dark, or else wrapped in sheets and ski goggles so they don’t burst into flame from the intense daylight. There’s naturally no water because it stopped raining after the sun malfunction, and so the main characters are  pretty much looking for a drink whenever they’re not being chased by the cannibals.

Hell (2011)The trouble with Hell is that it was made in Germany, about Germans, and filmed in German. As such, there’s just the confluence of ennui and anomie that one might expect of a German hell. There are few clear connections among the characters, and with the exception of the two sisters at the center of the story none of them seem to like each other.

They don’t so much dislike each other either. It’s more that they’re inherently unsympathetic, and have just barely been lifted out of apathy by the critical need that has been inflicted on them. This makes it a little difficult to relate to them, at least from an American perspective.

The film absolutely does not embrace the full potential of the genre, but neither is it boring. There’s a fair amount of action, and the characters try to kill each other off a lot with hammers and jackknives (no guns in the European apocalypse, you know). Hell was sitting in line for a WTF? rating until the last twenty minutes or so when the main characters were injected with an adequate dose of humanity as a closer. It’s worth a look if you like SHTF stuff.

20 Years After (2008)

Rating: WTF?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.

Creepy witch with poisonous scissors.

Creepy witch with poisonous scissors.

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.