Yay! It’s October again! Pumpkins and apple cider and muffin-baking and jumpers and jeans tucked into boots ^_^ And…Halloween! Exclamation marks! And let’s see if I can do my month-long horror-a-thon this year, too.
First on the month’s list is Hell (2011), a German-Swiss post-apocalyptic venture in which the earth has been scorched 10 degrees (Celsius) higher by unexplained solar storms. Just to get this out of the way now, Emmerich acted only as a producer. While the cynic in me is all, “ten degrees? Pfft”, it’s a surprisingly bigger deal than you’d think (especially as that link only explores 5-6 degree increases).
So it’s a little bit of an eye-shift when you go from a dusky opening in the woods to a scene in a blacked-out car to characters covering every inch of their bodies when stepping out to refuel their petrol tank in the blistering sun. Everything is overly-bright, intensely-saturated, yellow-white-tinted blindness. Don’t watch this in a dark room. (I thank Odin for the new anti-reflective coating on my new spectacles.)
Our tale follows survivors Phillip, Marie and Leonie, a trio heading north to the mountains in search of water, a plan suddenly underlined with hope when Phillip spots a bird “heading in the same direction”. Birds = fertile land. Things take a bit of a shaky turn when they pop into a seemingly abandoned petrol station to load up on fuel. Even though this is very early on in the film, I’d rather not give any plot points away because the growing uncertainty around loyalties and character development makes for a handful of intriguing surprises. Not least because in a film full of relative unknowns, you’ve no idea whose story this even is or who’ll survive.
What I will say though, is that the scenery is utterly breathtaking. Given that it was filmed on location in Corsican and German forests, it’s hardly surprising that it won the odd cinematography award or two, with the setting managing to be both bleak and beautiful. It’s a calming respite from the tension during those establishing shots.
Speaking of atmosphere, there’s almost no score. I can count a small number of effectively-used musical cues, including a bittersweet playback of 99 Luftballons, but other than that, it’s a creepily silent affair. And while it’s not an original concept (which isn’t fair, as…is anything?), good acting, taut direction and some moderately-used shaky-cam place it into an above-average horror-thriller. Comparisons to The Road are a bit unfair given the differences in budget and star power, and the constant cat-and-mouse element of Hell ramps up the tension beyond the slow-burn bleakness of the former. At the time of posting, it’s available on US Netflix and, clocking in at less than 90 minutes, it’s not a big timewaster if this didn’t turn out to be your slice of schichttorte (sorry).