Top 5 Slow-Apocalypse Films

It's the end of the world as we know it

A major problem with being the dominant movie exporter in the world is that every paranoia and fear that is explored in your fictional output is exported around the world as well. America has a reputation for projecting an explosive and powerful exterior – something that features heavily in the comic book/action hero explosion of the last few decades. This is also present in its real-life military industrial complex and fictional intelligence agencies of its action-adventure TV series (X-Files / 24 / Homeland etc.)

The apocalypse genre shows the cracks in this exterior. It shows the inherent fear that Americans feel towards nuclear / chemical / biological warfare; immigration and loss of identity; environmental apocalypse and religious eschatology… so many threats. Unsurprisingly in the years after 9/11 there was a wave of films showing cities and landmarks exploding, yet this trend seems to have slowed slightly.
The more interesting films for me are the more realistic ‘slow apocalypse’ films that show a dying earth fading out with a whimper as opposed to an explosive bang. These films show the fragility of the human race and the inevitable decline of our genetic global empire… these are my favourites:

Sunshine
SunshineThe sun is fading out so a crew is sent up to launch a city-sized nuclear device into the star to regenerate it. Whilst aboard the mission there is a philosophical and aggressive debate (resolved through action and not words) about whether the human race deserves to be saved.

Children of Men
Children of MenSet in London in the near future, all of the world’s (human) female population has unexpectedly become infertile. This has led to extreme nationalism and fascist border controls as people try to live the rest of their lives in as much luxury as they can. An interesting subplot is the world has deified the youngest person alive and as he dies a new youngest person is raised to global fame – an interesting satire on what we would cling to in our final days: reality TV and racism.

Another Earth
Another EarthNot so much an anthropological apocalypse but a cultural apocalypse – as in, the earth does not die but our relationship with it does. An intelligent young woman aspiring to go to M.I.T is driving home listening to the radio announce the discovery of a new local planet. Distracted by this she crashes her car and kills someone, ending up in jail. As she is released the planet has grown to be visible to the naked eye in daylight. Humans make contact with the planet and discover that there is intelligent life – the world has to slowly adapt to this radical information.

Melancholia
MelancholiaA young depressed bride-to-be decides during her wedding party that she is not in love with her partner and has to stay with her rich older sister. In the days after the wedding there is a rare celestial event where a planet is circling the Earth much to the enjoyment of the older sister’s husband and son who want to witness the event. It becomes clear that the world’s scientists have miscalculated the trajectory and the planets are going to collide. The inevitability of the astronomical tragedy allows the characters to prepare for the end of their worlds.

The Road
The RoadAn unidentified catastrophe has led to an environmental apocalypse in North America leaving only a handful of humans left to live their final days as hunter-gatherers. The film follows a father and son as they navigate the bleak, post-urban landscape as they head west in search of… something.

For more from Ollie visit his blog Crispy Sharp Film

Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction, Introducing a Sub-genre

Every now and then I discover a specific sub-genre of film in which so many of my favourite films fit. Sadly these sub-genres don’t actually exist so it is up to me to name and define them. I’ll start with a sub-genre I’ve mumbled about in the past; Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction or HeKniSciFi for short.

What are you talking about?
Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction covers all of those films in which there is a strong science fiction element at the crux of the plot and the film’s main focus is on the emotions of the characters rather than the fictional science itself.

Science Fiction tends to be quite futuristic, have a cast of characters in form-fitting clothing, and the futuristic technology is sleek and shiny. In a HeKniSciFi film the characters do tend to be wearing a lot of knitwear (just look at the image above) and the technology is often much more rustic. It is the difference between a man in Lycra on a spaceship travelling through time and a man in a sweater on a farm travelling through time and being emotional about it.

Sci-Fi has science fiction driving the plot throughout whereas HeKniSciFi takes the science fiction as a catalyst and then concerns itself with focussing on how miserable everyone is (in the best possible way.) Budgets are lower; you can expect a lot more wood and natural fibres in the furnishings in a HeKniSciFi and infinitely fewer explosions.

What’s wrong with Science Fiction?
Absolutely nothing! Did I say there was anything wrong with Science Fiction? You are being very defensive.

My only issue is that I think the term Sci-Fi automatically conjures up an image of humanoid aliens and galaxies far, far away and doesn’t accurately represent the full spectrum of the genre. Later I will list films that fall within HeKniSciFi and I hope that you will agree that while they contain fictional science they are a far cry from Sci-Fi.

Give me an example
A good comparative example comprises of Michael Bay’s 2005 action adventure film The Island and Mark Romanek’s 2011 indie drama Never Let Me Go. A look at a still from each film should give a good idea of what I am writing about:

The top image shows the leads in The Island, the bodysuits just scream Sci-Fi while the second image of three young adults with wavy hair could be taken from any indie drama of recent years. And yet they have the same plot. Both feature individuals in a secluded society who discover that they are clones who will eventually have their organs harvested when someone in the outside world needs them.

In The Island the clones live in an underground compound, wear tight white bodysuits, and upon discovering the truth go an adventure to find their real selves while being chased by a mercenary. As this is Michael Bay you can rest assured that explosions and fast bikes are included.

In Never Let Me Go the clones are brought up in an English boarding school, wear heavy knitwear, and upon discovering the truth do very little about it. While they do have a day trip to find one of their real selves the focus of the film is on the central love triangle. There are no explosions beyond Andrew Garfield shouting on a beach.

The Island is a glossy product, one in which Bay tries to keep you entertained and does not worry too much about the emotion side of the story. In Never Let Me Go everything is that little bit more textured and the characters are brought much more to the surface. The Island is shiny metal and Never Let Me Go is scuffed wood. The Island is Sci-Fi and Never Let Me Go is HeKniSciFi.

What other films fit the genre?
Other films in this genre include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a man wipes his memory of a past love and in doing so relives their relationship), Another Earth (a young woman falls in love with a man whose family she accidentally killed while a second Earth appears in the sky), Womb/Clone (a woman gives birth to a clone of her dead boyfriend and experiences confusing emotions), and Cold Souls (an actor literally swaps his soul to better act in a Chekhov play). In each of these films there is a fictional technology at the film’s core but our focus is on the emotions of the lead character. They all feature heavy knitwear too but that is not an essential requirement.

The next time you see a low-budget film with a high concept and a chunky jumper just think about it. Are you watching Sci-Fi or HeKniSciFi? Does Looper fit the bill or Safety Not Guaranteed? Discuss.

Sound Of My Voice – Film Review

The only qualm I have with Zal Batmanglij (yes, the director’s name is Batman!) and Brit Marling’s film Sound Of My Voice is that its title is missing a ‘the’; the feeling that I am beginning a sentence halfway through makes me uncomfortable. But then, how apt that the film’s title seemingly leaves bits out and makes me feel off since that’s exactly what Sound Of My Voice does as a film.

Brit Marling is Maggie; a prophet to some, a cult leader to others. She is a hidden enigma that professes to be from the year 2054 and is here to, well, she plays her cards pretty close to her chest so we’re not really sure what her plan is. All we know is that the followers that she is amassing include Peter (Christopher Denhem) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) who have infiltrated the group to exploit it as the cult-scam they believe it is. Though, as they grow to be one with the group the pair slowly forget why they joined Maggie’s sect, and the line between investigator and disciple blurs.

Although its protagonist/antagonist (Sound Of My Voice can be delightfully ambiguous) claims to be a time traveller the film remains very grounded; exploring a more human drama that focuses on the dilemmas its characters are going through emotionally than on Austrian bodybuilders with a proclivity for nudity and cool one-liners – though, Marling occasionally does dress down and sing popular songs from the 90s.

Marling and Batmanglij don’t stop at their characters when it comes to Cult Counselling 101 either. Through its quiet, minimalist style and absorbing tone the rituals and activities that Maggie asks of her followers are often just as effective on the audience as they are on Peter and Lorna. When Maggie asks her supporters to close their eyes and imagine being a child you feel yourself joining in as you enter the same state of longing as those acting on Maggie’s whim. This immersive style is fun for the most part until one particular activity crops up which (for cleanliness reasons) involves placing a plastic sheet on the floor. Whilst I am certain that Batmanglij and Marling have created the next step in immersive cinema (5D!) I’m not so certain that cinemas will like the cleanup that may come after the audience’s involuntary participation.*

Sound Of My Voice is a well-chaptered and remarkably powerful film full of emotional and dramatic epiphanies that will have you glued to your seat even when the credits roll. A [maybe] sci-fi, pyschological drama that is filled with crisscrossing ideas about divinity and the power of persuasion that impresses far more than most films so far this year.

Although it leaves you with plenty of questions, Sound Of My Voice gives you the tools for some very thoughtful after-film debates and a burning desire to know where its cast and crew will go next.

Sound Of My Voice will be in UK cinemas on 3rd August 2012.

*If this isn’t exactly clear – I am referencing a scene in which the group decides to purge their negativity by putting a finger down their throat. Cue the Mexican wave of sick in the cinema hall.

Top 20 Films of 2011

As 2011 comes to a close is it my obligation as a film blogger to put together my pick of 2011’s releases. I’ve gone for my top twenty as narrowing it down to just ten would be too harrowing a task and my only rule is that they must have been released in UK cinemas during 2011. This takes us from The Next Three Days (absolutely not in the list) to The Lady and The Artist and is only limited to films I have seen. I’ve also chosen not to speak to the wider Mild Concern team, mostly due to laziness, barring watching Waste Land at Kat’s insistence. This was a decision I have come to regret considering the rambling you will find below.

The scene properly set, let’s get onto the list. Looking back 2011 has been a great year for cinema, here are my top 20 releases of 2011:

Continue reading

Another Earth – Review

Another Earth may be a high concept Sci-Fi in its synopsis, a film exploring the idea of there being a second identical Earth within our solar system, but the execution is on a much more low-key, character driven level. And all the better for it.

Driving home from a party, Rhoda (Brit Marling) hears on the radio that a planet identical to our own has been discovered. Squinting into the sky to have a look for herself Rhoda drives at full speed into another car, killing the mother and child inside and leaving the husband in a coma. After four years in prison she returns to civilization as Earth 2 looms ever closer. While trying to apologise to John (William Mapother) whose family she killed, Rhoda instead begins working for him as a cleaner before growing closer to John over time. Meanwhile contact between the two Earths is established and so it is discovered that everyone on our planet also exists up on the alternative planet. Did the alternative version of Rhoda also kill John’s family?

With its low-budget and a focus on the effects of a Sci-Fi worthy event on the characters, rather than on the event itself, makes Another Earth a perfect fit for my Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction* genre so expertly defined by Never Let Me Go. There is no time wasted exploring why Earth has a twin or on the inevitable first exploratory shuttle trip. We only learn about the fantastical event through coverage on the news and gossip between family members. This human touch makes the film all the more believable, debut director Mike Cahill wisely knows that the less you explain something, the less explanations the audience wants.

Speaking of Cahill, he has a beautiful eye. So much of Another Earth could be framed and put up on the wall, its textured look is pleasing to the eye and not bogged down in too much dialogue and what dialogue there is has a natural sound. The film may not feature as much heavy knitwear as Never Let Me Go but it certainly embodies that aesthetic; rough to the touch but comforting all the same.

Brit Marling plays Rhoda with a real complexity, a woman trying to atone for her sins, yet somehow by doing so is committing a selfless act. One act in particular which could be seen as one of love is in fact the cruellest she could have committed… after killing someone’s family of course. Holding up the other end of the film is William Mapother as the man who has lost everything. When we first see Mapother he is a man with nothing left to live for, a man who has given up, and through his relationship with Rhoda we see him rebuilt as a human being. The transition is sweet to watch, but the looming discovery of Rhoda’s true identity leaves the audience fearing for his sanity.

Barring a few pretentious moments courtesy of a self-harming janitor, Another Earth is a flawless film that is tender, tense and beautiful. The film essentially washes over the audience and all you need do is simply sit back and let it in. Arguably the Sci-Fi element could have been explored a little more but for me the human story at the centre was more than enough to fill a film.

Another Earth is a treat for any fan of independent cinema and has more emotional weight than most tent-pole blockbusters (and plenty of Oscar contenders too).

*Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction = Any film with a science fiction plot which focuses more on character than plot, and has characters wearing thick jumpers rather than jumpsuits.