‘All my family and friends are probably dead, and all you can talk about is fucking beans.’
Another entry in the people-are-shit horror stakes, this international feature from French director Xavier Gens (Frontiere(s)), scripted by Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean (whose Errors of the Human Body I like much more), has an impressive cast and a decent set-up but really doesn’t have enough new to say to be worth suffering through. In a grabby opening, New York suffers a nuclear attack (by terrorists? Invaders?) and some (but not all) residents of an apartment building make it to the basement survivalist shelter maintained by the custodian Mickey (Michael Biehn). After a while, a decontamination-suited party breach the shelter and take away the lone child, though not before sustaining casualties – in the oddest, most effective sequence (perhaps Cloverfield-inspired), leading man type Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) puts on one of the survival suits and ventures outside, finding a polytunnel to a facility where shaven-headed children are being stored in containers for some obscure purpose, then returns to the cellar and doesn’t tell Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette), the child’s mother, what he’s seen. Then the whole business about who’s outside, who’s responsible and what exactly they’re doing with the kids is summarily dropped, and the film turns into a hothouse parable of tyranny and gutlessness.
A black dude (Courtney B. Vance) wonders what Mickey has stashed in his combination-locked retreat (all the supplies, of course) and gets shot dead in a struggle with the paranoid former firefighter (it’s hinted that he suffered on 9/11). The others overcome Mickey and tie him to a chair, but this only means Josh and his loose cannon asshole pal Bobby (Michael Eklund), losing their hair (through radiation poisoning) and going pasty-faced and psycho, become the de facto rulers of the shelter. Replacing Mickey’s survivalist rigour with decadent cruelty, Bobby and Josh make a sex slave of the now-demented Marilyn and shave their heads, becoming kin to the fascist freaks of Frontiere(s). Eva (Lauren German, who has done time in the Chainsaw and Hostel franchises), the heroine/final girl, is in a triangle with her wimp French boyfriend Sam (Ivan Gonzalez), whom Bobby starts wanting to rape, and Josh’s decent half-brother Adrien (Ashton Holmes). It’s a film where folk keep doing the worst or stupidest things, and Sam is the character who gets the dimmest developments – consistently failing to take advantage, nagged by everyone and, when given a gun, shooting the person he has a petty beef with rather than the people who would rape or kill him (this is staged in an unintentionally comic manner with Eva and Josh both shouting at him to kill the other). Finally, Eva (did she really have to be called this?) is sole survivor, putting on the spacesuit and wading through the chemical toilet cesspool to the secret escape hatch and emerging in a ruined, deserted city she stares at in a manner which doesn’t really count as an ending.
This offers a good, varied cast of strong names with genre and general film cred, and gives most of them a few showcase scenes to play – Arquette, like her character, deserves better, but bravely suffers and exposes herself – but it’s all random and haphazard. Admittedly, it’s a despairing, apocalyptic vision – even so, a film needs something more than hatefulness to get by.