It always seems like there’s a possibility of World War 3. Even today, while the Cold War has long passed, there’s seems to be a constant feeling that someone in Russia or the US will end up pushing that red button, launching a nuclear holocaust. Obviously, the whole thing makes for potentially great sci-fi and horror films capitalizing on the “What if?” scenario. Newcomer director Peter Engert is the latest to try and weave a tale of survivors struggling in a post-nuclear wasteland. Rather than taking certain liberties, such as the lack of effects from that darn radiation sickness in other post-nuclear films, Engert attempts to present the things in a more realistic fashion. Question is, does it work?
In rural Texas, the Big One has dropped as the United States is in the midst of World War 3. A young doctor named Hunter (C.J. Thomason) through chance meets up with a group of other survivors in a farmhouse cellar. Battling claustrophobia and their interpersonal conflicts, the group of nine must also deal with growing hunger, radiation sickness and a roving gang of dying refugees eager to steal supplies.
As I said, unlike some futuristic films that portray humanity’s struggle against a common foe without worrying about the logical problems inherent with nuclear warfare, Engert has chosen to give the film a very bleak and not-so-rosy outlook. Communications are toast due to the EMP burst from the dropped bomb, the soil is radioactive and the air is practically poison, survivors are soaking up radiation and slowly dying from the fallout, and the emergency broadcasts from the vice-president (!!) are hollow and generic. It’s pretty damn depressing. However, it’s also not out of the realm of reality if a nuke was dropped. Throwing in instances of roving bands of people pettily fighting with other survivors for supplies just adds to the bleakness, knowing that it’s all in vain. It’s an interesting change of pace from what you’d normally expect that’s reluctantly welcome.
Of course, it would all be for nothing if the cast wasn’t up to the job. C.J. Thomason does well as the heroic doctor Hunter. He does much of the exposition, explaining the effects nuclear fallout, while also doing the “doctor thing”, patching people up, gathering supplies and so on. Monica Keena also does well as nurse Elizabeth, doing her job to the best of her abilities for as long as she can. The real star is surprisingly Edward Furlong, who I still remember as John Connor whose acting was all over the place. Not here, as Furlong plays the short-fused redneck prick Brad, who undermines and opposes Hunter’s do-gooder plans. Overall, all the players provide the needed tension and drama that’s required for a film like this.
As you’ve probably determined, this is not a film with a happy outcome. That’s understandable, but unfortunately Engert doesn’t do much more with the film. Much of what Engert does do has been done before in other post-apocalyptic films, including a raid by outsiders on our protagonists’ shelter. Of course, outsiders consist of irradiated folks that bring to mind the rage zombies from 28 Days Later, only crispier. Sure, it does have that exploration of what people would do in a situation such as this, but there’s nothing more to it. There’s a cry for more backstory for the characters, but ultimately that never comes. Instead, the film starts becoming flat by the midway point.
Aftermath strives to be different from what you’d normally get with a post-nuclear film. And while the bleakness and pessimistic outlook does change things up, it doesn’t deviate from the formula we’ve all seen before. Adding in the lack of backstory exploration needed to keep things going, the film comes across as more depressive than it needs to be. While a dose of theoretical reality is nice, you’d still want to be entertained for 92 minutes. Aftermath offers up some good points, but still misses a few things to make it truly worthwhile.
Shot on the RED camera, Aftermath is presented in AVC-encoded 1080p 1.78:1 widescreen. Being shot digitally, the transfer sports solid black levels and great detail, both in light and in shadow. Since the film’s been colour-corrected to help appear harsh and bleak, the palette is appropriately desaturated. Overall, a great-looking transfer.
Audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The initial nuclear blast has the appropriate window-rattling oomph in the bass, which is always fun. Much of the dialogue is presented in hushed speech, which makes arguments and the sounds of violence louder than they normally would be. It’s a neat effect, and makes the final act intense to the point of it being almost unbearable. Regardless of the loudness, dialogue comes across clear and free of distortion.