(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/EASTLAKE FILMS/LIGHTWAVE ENTERTAINMENT (92 minutes/Unrated); produced 2012, released 2014)
While not perfect, AFTERMATH is still a brilliant examination of the human condition, a world teetering on the brink of elimination. This is more than just another apocalyptic zombie movie, it’s a character study of nine disparate souls, brought together after a well-orchestrated terrorist attack levels every major city, military installation and government facility in the United States; the attacks also target the USA’s allies and, of course, there are retaliatory strikes, leaving the entire planet a cesspool of nuclear destruction and fallout. As with any good tale of the apocalypse, things start as they should… at the end. Things very quickly move to “One month earlier,” where we meet a doctor named Hunter (played by CJ Thomason, we never really know if it’s his first or last name), on a walking tour somewhere in Texas. The first blast hits just as he meets a vehicle with a young woman (Christine Kelly) and her young charge (brother, student, baby-sittee?).
There’s plenty of science to go along with the (very realistic) fiction, as the car dies because all of the electronic components are fried and, as the second blast occurs, the boy turns toward it and basically burns out his retinas. Hunter quickly rallies the troops as the search begins for, first, a vehicle with a diesel engine, then, supplies and a place to wait out the radiation and nuclear fallout; the doctor says that the refugees have approximately ten hours before the radiation settles. Along the way, they pick up another traveler (Monica Keena) and, four hours in, are greeted by a frightened youth with a very big gun. Hunter is shot before he can convey the urgency of the situation.
Just at the ten hour mark, the quartet comes upon a house, knowing that this must be the place they wait out the devastation. Again, Hunter is met with resistance, another gun in his face. The outcome involvesfar less blood, as the doc disarms the would-be killer. We soon find that Brad (Edward Furlong in a brilliantly unhinged role) and his pregnant wife (Jessie Rusu) are at the house of their neighbor, Jonathan (Ross Britz) and his diabetic uncle, for the same reason that Hunter and the others stopped: It’s the only house for miles around with a cellar. More science as Hunter tells the others what they need in the cellar and what they can expect to happen before they can leave the shelter of their new home, a period of at least 30 days.
As the characters wait for the fallout to dissipate, a very real sense of claustrophobia sets in (for the characters and audience, alike) and we – to paraphrase THE REAL WORLD – find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. By this time, the film has taken on a cinema verite aspect, a la THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, to great effect. The final member of the “family,” a friend of Jonathan named Rob (Andre Royo) makes his way to the house to check on his comic-reading and role-playingbuddy, only to be shot in the wrist. The pair share a few moments that are quite poignant, including Rob volunteering to go outside to bury the uncle and, later, the two discussing which Green Lantern is the best, ending the discussion with the Lantern’s oath. Jonathan and Rob aren’t the only ones with those emotional, human moments, though. Everyone is devastated by the death of the uncle, the first of their group to go; Brad, in particular, is riding a roller coaster of emotions, worrying about his wife and unborn child.
Having never been in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, I can’t say for sure, but the emotions and circumstances seem impressively real… which, of course, was the intent of writer Christian McDonald and director Peter Engert. AFTERMATH (which was originally titled REMNANTS) may not be a primer to prepare you for a nuclear holocaust, but it does make you think about how close we are on any given day to this kind of annihilation. Obviously, not everyone in the cellar survives and, the final BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID fight-to-freedom scenario against what appears to be an infectedfamily of homicidal lunatics (or, maybe, they’re a motorcycle gang who are only interested in how much damage they can inflict on others) really tells the story of man’s desire for survival against any odds. There aren’t a lot of zombies here (in fact, Hunter refers to them as being “infected” by the radiation and fallout), just nuclear-charged emotions. And, for me, that’s more than enough to recommend this flick.