One way is the road followed by the usual studio big budget blockbusters. You render it all with glorious special effects and glowing CGI, detailing city after city being bombarded with explosive forces while spectacularly ground into particles of glimmering, shimmering dust. The other way? That would be to go with a vastly lower budget and leave all of the pyrotechnics to the imagination of the viewing audience. Instead, populate your film with close-up after dingy close-up of the people, their faces, and the rags they wear on their shoulders as they fight not only the elements but also one another in close, personal, and oft-times psychological battles to the finish.
This is the road travelled by Aftermath … and it’s a dark, dirty, desolate road, indeed.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“The devastating horror of a nuclear apocalypse is now reality, and nine desperate strangers find themselves clinging to life in a farmhouse cellar, while radioactive fallout descends on the darkened world above.”
To be fair, there’s more, but methinks you get the idea. And – if you’ve seen the slipcase – then you’ve probably already made up your mind if Aftermath is your type of film. As I detailed above, this isn’t a big box office spectacle; rather, this is probably the way the world will end … not with a bang but with a lingering whimper. It’s stark. It’s unforgiving. And it’s relentlessly depressing.
It would seem that life hasn’t taught us very well if this film is any indication. These strangers – forced together out of circumstance – find themselves having to trust one another only because of their predicament and not because they’re trying to be stewards to their fellow man. As the tension mounts, they argue, fight, and unnerve each other, trapped as they are in the confines of what amounts to an old-style home basement. The upside to their isolation? The house actually is fairly well stocked with items that afford them a greater opportunity than others to survive (short wave radio, old-timer transistor radios, foodstuffs, etc.), so the script by Christian McDonald makes clever use of what other Hollywood types would probably describe as a modern day militia setting.
However, kudos to director Peter Engert for the staging and the cinematography. These folks are definitely closed in figuratively and symbolically no matter which way he sheds light on their collective space, and it’s all done so well (after the initial set-up) that it effectively brings a doomed sense of claustrophobia to the production. When they sleep, they’re nearly up against one another. When they fight, they’re practically already up in another’s face. Just as their world outside has been obliterated, any sense of space has gone out the cellar window as well.
Sadly, there isn’t much character development, and I found that a shame. With all of these folks closed in close quarters for so long, one thinks McDonald could’ve come up with a bit more than what he did – essentially, he serves up nice yet somber moments that detail how these leftovers refuse at all costs to give up their innate humanity. A few of them even have small arcs (for example, there’s a moment when the young doctor finds himself studying a picture from his wallet, but we learn absolutely nothing of relevance about the woman he’s with) that would’ve allowed some room for more. Naturally, the same won’t be said for those who come hunting them, but still I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more in the growth department. Instead, everyone settles in rather comfortably for what the audience is probably certain is going to be a rough ride indeed.
Aftermath (2012) is produced by Eastlake Films and LightWave Entertainment. DVD distribution is being handled by the reliable RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment. As for the technical specifications? Well, Aftermath boasts some mostly good cinematography, but the set-up sequences that account for the film’s first twenty minutes (or so) were photographed in extremely dark settings; in fact, one could argue that it’s so dark at times it’s nearly impossible to tell fully what’s going on. That was a bit of a mess … but after those opening moment (basically once the group settles into the home’s cellar) the lighting improves immeasurably. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features, then here’s your subtle reminder: it’s the Apocalypse, silly! There aren’t any!
Granted, Aftermath is without a doubt relentlessly depressing. (And I do mean “relentlessly depressing,” folks.) After a cautionary (and poorly lit) set-up, the film settles in to detailing what a grim fate awaits those who are unfortunate enough to survive the Apocalypse … if you really want to call this ‘surviving.’ Engert’s cinematography and the film’s set production go a long way toward selling the premise; and – if you’re still with it come the desperate finale – then hopefully you’ve learned something from this drearily foreboding tale.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Image Entertainment and RLJ Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of Aftermath by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape or form influenced my opinion of it.