Two-time Best Texas Director award winner Brett Bentman gives us a very different vision of a post-apocalyptic future. While Mad Max: Fury Road travels through such a future with relentless, bottleneck speed, Apocalypse Road is a patient navigation of a world reduced to its barren skeleton. As sisters Natalie (Katie Kohler) and Sarah (Ashlyn McEvers) try to escape from a gang of murderers intent on establishing a dystopian state, the camera lingers on the landscape, taking its time to show rusting planes and ageing buildings to capture this dead world down to the last detail.
It’s an interesting setting, but it feels hastily put together. There is no explanation of what happened that turned the world on its head. There are references to a mass prison and some kind of ‘global solution’, but these become seemingly unimportant by the end of the film. It is also not immediately clear why the grumpy and bearded assassin Hugo (Lance De Los Santos) is chasing the girls in the first place. There is a feeling by the end that everything just doesn’t add up like it should.
This is, however, of little concern. Apocalypse Road is tense, driven by its characters and thoroughly enjoyable. There are no heart-pounding action sequences with hellfire and brimstone firing from all directions. When the violence comes, it is brief, bloody and brutal – but never included for no reason. This is interspersed between individualised sequences delving a little deeper into the histories of the sisters. They are fascinating characters, and while they bicker like all good siblings do, the unforgiving climax to the story emphasises the strength of the bond between them (very well performed by Kohler and McEvers).
As the sisters are separated for most of the film, they have to rely on fighting, betrayal and a little bit of luck to survive. The other survivors they meet during their journey all play important roles, and their fates are all carefully written by Bentman so they impact on the girls’ fate. They all have their own stories and are well developed; although, in Roger’s (Todd Jenkins’) case, a whole new side to his personality is only revealed right before he is killed. It feels like painting a portrait before throwing it onto an open fire – a bit of a wasted effort. Nevertheless, the time taken to make the protagonists interesting and detailed really shines through.
Apocalypse Road is considerably better put together than it easily could have been, and given a flick of style courtesy of a mesmerising synth score. It leaves some things to be desired, but it is satisfying enough to demand revisiting whenever the craving for a desolate future takes hold.
APOCALYPSE ROAD / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BRETT BENTMAN / SCREENPLAY: BRETT BENTMAN / STARRING: KATIE KOHLER, ASHLYN MCEVERS, LANCE DE LOS SANTOS, TODD JENKINS, BEN RIGSBY JR. / RELEASE DATE: TBC