Reviewed by Mike Ferraro
Tim Fehlbaum’s Hell takes a familiar apocalyptic situation and creates a pretty unique enough experience for you to not get bogged down by such familiar tropes. The year is 2016 and the sun has reached a boiling point. Most of Earth’s vegetation is gone, as are the animals we feed upon. Most of the survivors take shelter in places that are boarded up and with as few windows as possible. Though it would seem that most people want to stay out of the sun’s way, this just wouldn’t be a film if there weren’t people doing the complete opposite.
The film follows three such survivors – Marie (Hannah Herzsprung), Phillip (Lars Eidinger) and Leonie (Lisa Vicari) – driving towards the mountains. Their car is something of a Mad Max reject – the windows are covered with various items to block that big yellow bastard in the sky but there aren’t any large metallic items welded to the vehicle to provide protection from vagrants. What do they expect to find in the mountains? Enough water and vegetation to last them long enough to survive and figure out the next move.
A casual stop at an abandoned gas station provides the inciting incident. There they meet a fellow traveler without a vehicle who promises to aide them. Things change for the group when Leonie, the youngest female of the group, is taken by a nearby group of cannibals attempting to re-create society. You can guess what their plans are for the girl (see 28 Days Later for a clue).
Hell does a great job of creating atmosphere and suspense. Sure, most of these things we have seen before, but the performances here really help guide it through the clichés in a captivating fashion. The look of the film is exactly what you would expect given the subject matter, and cinematographer Markus Förderer utilizes a very brown and washed out color palette.
Thematically, Hell just adds to what we already think about the end of the world. There will be a few lone survivors that will fall into one of two groups: the cannibal rapists or the moral soloists. The latter group wants nothing but to survival. They hope to never bump into the other group but most always will at some point in their journey. The film reminds me a lot of the superior (and vastly underrated) The Road by John Hillcoat. That film, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, also deals with the same character and societal archetypes. Is that really how the human race will treat each other when the end comes? We should probably be surprised if it were any different.
Audio/Video: The Blu-ray allows Förderer’s photography to really pop (especially with the sun-blinding scenery) and continues to show just what you can do with a RED camera. The audio, however, provides an interesting quandary. It automatically defaults to a Dolby Digital 5.1 dubbed English track, when the film’s native language is German. So just go to the menu at the start-up and change it to its original German track (DTS-HD and subtitled) for a much better experience. Sadly, the disc contains no special features.