Oct 30, 2015
Day 30: HELL (2011)
In the very near future, the sun flips out for some unexplainable reason and temperatures rise by 50 degrees (or by 10 degrees for everyone, like, not in America). It doesn't take long for society to collapse when it no longer rains and an hour of exposure can cook you right up.
Marie (Hannah Herzsprung), her little sister Leonie (Lisa Vicari), and Marie's boyfriend Phillip (Lars Eidinger) drive through the barren wasteland in search of the waters that are rumored to flow to the north. The journey is difficult; gasoline is in short supply, the environment is deadly...and Leonie really dislikes Phillip's alpha male ways and the fact that Marie capitulates to him so readily simply because he has a car. Eventually they take on another passenger, Tom (Stipe Erceg), who can lend survival skills to the group but may not be trustworthy. Leonie in particular takes a shine to him, however, and Phillip's role as the de facto leader is suddenly not so assured.
These interpersonal dynamics are soon abandoned when the group gets suckered into a trap and Leonie is taken. Hell then begins to check off items from the post-apocalyptic thriller checklist: "Hell" is other people, the hungry will go to extreme lengths to survive, attractive young women must become baby machines, we must live for our loved ones, and so on. It is familiar ground for sure, but it's capably trod by director/co-writer Tim Fehlbaum.
Ultimately, Hell is Marie's journey towards something like autonomy. Throughout the film, Leonie questions why Marie isn't more proactive: why does she put up with Phillip's shit? Why isn't she strong instead of weak? When her sister is at risk, will Marie finally grow a pair (of ovaries) and take control? Her growth is "Final Girl"-esque, really, especially when you consider how many comments there are throughout the film about how important it is to have a man around (he can fix stuff and protect the womenfolk!). That's nice and all, but it's also nice if the women can protect themselves, too...especially when the world and pretty much everyone in it are trying to kill you.
This is not a Mad Max-style apocalyptic scenario, though. There are no leather-clad weirdos with crazy names, and there is not a mohawk to be found. These are ordinary people largely ill-equipped to deal with the scavenger/survivalist lifestyle. Marie doesn't turn into some dual machete-wielding badass drenched in blood as she chops her way to her sister, and the "villains" are equally subdued. This initially feels sort of anticlimactic, but in the end I appreciated this low-key approach. There's a place in post-apocalyptic cinema for character-driven stories, after all, and if I want nutso action, I can go watch Fury Road.
That said, as a character-driven story, Hell is a little weak. The acting is terrific and the characters are compelling even if we know nothing about them beyond the here and now. The script is fairly insubstantial, though, and a promising beginning becomes a series of genre tropes in the film's second half. I wouldn't say it's disappointing, necessarily–it had my attention all the way through, and I was invested in Marie's and Leonie's welfare. But overall it feels a bit like two approaches to the material battling for supremacy and neither really nabs a decisive victory.