Thursday, August 02, 2018

Survival Comes First in Post-apocalyptic Thriller What Still Remains: A Film Review

*full disclosure: an online screener of this film was provided by the film's publicity arm.

Tagline: "People Become Their Own Kind of Monster."

Director/writer: Josh Mendoza

Cast: Lulu Antariksa, Colin O'Donoghue, Jeff Kober and Mimi Rogers.

What Still Remains is an upcoming post-apocalyptic thriller. Developed by Josh Mendoza (A Killer of Men), this indie tale takes place after a devastating biological event; survivors struggle to survive in a Christian community. As well, this film centrally stars Lulu Antariska ("T@gged"), along with Colin O'Donoghue, Jeff Kober and Mimi Rogers. Antariska plays Anna, a young woman who has just lost her family. What Still Remains focuses on the story. Still, some of the survival situations came across as a bit too fantastical. The film sets itself squarely in the post-apocalyptic film genre. And, it is here that the film shines as characters must make difficult moral choices, in a hostile, new world.

From some of the dialogue, the events take place after a biological attack, or the release of a virus. Some of the characters talk about: "the changed" or "the pestilence." Other, more villainous characters appear with boils on their faces as if their immune systems have been weakened. An entire community has created traditions around ridding themselves of this pestilence. And, though it is never explicitly mentioned in the film, a biological catastrophe has changed the world.

Meanwhile, the story mostly follows Anna (Antariska). She has just lost her mother to the plague. She has also left her brother behind, to be killed or kidnapped by one of the berzerkers. These berzerkers hunt the land, looking for loot or new recruits. Not long into the film, Anna meets Peter (O'Donoghue). And, they head out to Peter's community, near a lake. Here, both characters find some respite, from the hostilities of the world. However, this Christian community has its own strange interpretation of the Bible. Everything and everyone is shared, in this village. Some characters would rather take their chances with the roaming, nearby hostiles rather than live with these Christians.

This film made me question - what makes a post-apocalyptic film? This genre is composed of at least four elements. Firstly, these film - which are becoming ever more popular - often take place after a catastrophic event, like the one mentioned above. Films like The Day After (1983), occur after a nuclear strike. Other films like 28 Days Later (2002) or The Crazies (2010) take place after viral pandemics. A catastrophe jumps starts the action. As well, post-apocalyptic films change a characters' focus. Instead of focusing on what outfit to wear or what hamburger to order, characters must now deal with how-to-just-survive. Characters get moved down Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, quite a bit. Also, civilization is now gone. Film fans can see the destruction of civilization in other titles like Cormac McCarthy The Road (2009) or Mick Jackson's earlier film Threads (1984). There is very little to scavenge in the irradiated rubble. Finally, with the removal of civilization and the desperate need to just survive, characters are forced to make different moral choices. No one needs to worry if 10 kilometres over the speed limit is a problem. Now, characters must decide whether murder is a decent survival strategy. What Still Remains incorporates all of these elements in a fairly quick eighty to ninety minutes.

However, some of the characters in What Still Remains do not make the best choices. Anna's brother, David (Roshon Fegan), throws his life away, early in the film (or does he?). When David and Anna are chased by a berzerker, David hurts his leg and instantly gives up. His sister even offers to help him back to the camp, which is close by. But, David would rather potentially die, than save himself. He even gives his gun away, to basically sign his own death certificate. Though, there is a bit of redemption for David, late in the film. As well, none of the characters are interested in camouflage. It is best to use brightly coloured boards for walls, than to stay undetected in the disaster zone (sarcasm). Later, the character Peter does not draw his gun, when bandits are about. And, this critic started to wonder if these characters would actually survive in such a hostile environment.

What Still Remains is set to debut on Digital platforms this month. Gravitas Ventures is handling the film's release. And, What Still Remains is a decent post-apocalyptic thriller. There is enough action and conflict here, to hold the attention. Meanwhile, Mendoza's story does offer a look at how a community would survive in a new inhospitable landscape. The film's protagonist does come off as a bit too hard, at times. However, everything is moving towards a decent climax and confrontation with the many scarred villains. Some of the film's reality falters, because of the poor non-survival choices. But, this viewer was thoroughly entertained by the events on-screen. After all, post-apocalyptic films are becoming more and more like survival manuals for the future (at least according to the news) and post-apocalyptic films should reflect that.

Overall: 7 out of 10.

*it always strange to see older, female characters with their hair still dyed and male characters with new haircuts, in post-apocalyptic films.

The film's official trailer is available here, on 28DLA: A What Still Remains' Trailer on 28DLA

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