Say NO to Death: why do we love post-apocalypse movies?December 13th, 2011 | Posted by in Movie Reviews | New Releases | Uncategorized
Most of us know we’re going to die someday. But we don’t really know this until we approach middle age, when we suddenly find ourselves at the halfway mark between our birth and our death. From here forward, the time we have left on earth is measurable within our own experience. For the first time, our own death fits inside our head.
Before this universal epiphany, our imagination helps us keep that truth at bay. We imagine, almost unconsciously, that we will never die: that our death will always be below the approaching horizon, as it is when we’re young. Even after we come to this realization, we continue to rely on our imagination to keep the idea of our death in a box, made of equal parts panic and denial.
One of the ways this denial fantasy manifests is in post-apocalyptic fiction, the ultimate expression of the Kübler-Ross denial stage: “OK, fine, everyone dies”—picture the ultimate scifi image of that idea: a depopulated earth—“but not me!”—now picture a man alone in that landscape. Presto! You have the general outline of most post-apocalyptic fiction. Of course, the demands of drama often dictate the insertion of other characters (see the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve for an early example of this cliché), so the “I’m not alone after all!” scene is a standard second-act opener in many post-apocalyptic stories.
Cliché or not, the genre remains robust. We’re in the middle of what appears to be a surge in the popularity of post-apocalyptic storylines: see FX’s series The Walking Dead, and movies such as The Road, The Book of Eli, I Am Legend, and the IndieFlix title 100 Mornings, which is available exclusively through iNDEMAND.
Writer-director Conor Horgan has achieved, with 100 Mornings, the astonishing feat of crafting an almost completely original take on a tried (and tired) genre. There are no piles of rotting corpses in 100 Mornings, no smoking rubble, and no zombies—whether slow or fast. Instead, Horgan’s film is set in the lush green Irish countryside, where two couples are sharing a rustic cottage. Only as the story progresses do we discover that, as the result of a disaster whose nature we never learn—fallout? virus? Rapture?—these four represent a good chunk of the remaining local population. Everyone else, with the exception of some guys with guns who want their stuff and a neighbor who’s reassessing his ideas about neighborliness, is gone. The film remains committed to the originality of its initial setup throughout, as Horgan keeps the drama focused on the characters. A refreshing approach, and an admirable avoidance of the clichés that usually come standard on post-apocalypse movies.
Our second post-apocalyptic film featured this week comes from the IndieFlix Classics library. The Last Man on Earth stars Vincent Price in the role later played by Charlton Heston, and then by Will Smith, in later adaptations of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. As one of the first films in the post-apocalypse canon, The Last Man on Earth also gets a pass on any clichés, since it invented many of them. Unlike 100 Mornings, The Last Man on Earth is something of a zombie movie, probably the very first of that subgenre. These shambling bloodsuckers are only half-zombified. They lurch around and bump into things, but they remain conscious; they entreat the protagonist by name—“Morgan! Morgan!”—to come outside and be eaten. But Morgan remains barricaded through the long lonely nights, and only ventures out after the sun rises, when the undead hide from the lethal rays of the sun. Until, inevitably, he stays out too late one evening, civic-mindedly disposing of corpses and methodically inventorying the pantries and shelves of abandoned homes and stores. And of course dispatching any zombie-vampire he encounters. As dated and almost quaint as it can seem after nearly 50 years of escalating zombie gore, The Last Man on Earth shares with 100 Mornings a respect for story and character over effects and cheap scares, and remains despite its age an exceptional example of the genre.
Check out both of these movies and then report back here with your list of favorite post-apocalyptic flicks, and your vote in the slow zombie vs. fast zombie debate. (Hint: the correct answer is slow zombies!)