Blu-ray Review: Hell / Cert: 15 / Director: Tim Fehlbaum / Screenplay: Tim Fehlbaum, Oliver Kahl, Thomas Wobke / Starring: Hannah Herzsprung, Lisa Vicari, Lars Eidinger, Stipe Erceg / Release Date: July 2nd
Roland Emmerich has been instrumental in the cinematic destruction of the Earth more times than can reasonably be considered decent and he’s at it again in Hell, albeit this time in his role as producer rather than director. First-time film-maker (and co-writer) Fehlbaum is in charge here and, not surprisingly, the budget is a little bit lower than the Man Himself is used to and the story is a little lower-key than the likes of The Day After Tomorrow and the ludicrous 2012. But the stakes are just as high - the world’s gone to the dogs again, after all - it’s just that the story’s a bit more intimate and the scale a bit smaller than it might have been if Emmerich had been directly playing with his favourite toys again.
Hell is a subtitled German movie set in 2016 where increased solar activity sees the Earth’s temperature rise to the extent that the planet has become a blasted, desolate wilderness, its surface scorched, what remains of its population hiding from the searing, unrelenting heat. Hell is set in the aftermath of the catastrophe - no burning cities and scenes of devastation here - as two sisters, Marie (Herzsprung) and Leonie (Vicari) drive through the parched countryside with the well-meaning Phillip (Eidinger) heading for the mountains where, so they’ve heard, there are plentiful supplies of natural water - now the scarcest of commodities in this arid new world. Stopping at an abandoned petrol station in search of supplies and petrol, the group meet up with the desperate Tom (Erceg) who joins them on their journey. But before long they find themselves ambushed and separated and Marie, alone and terrified, sets out to rescue her captured sister from the clutches of a family of survivors who have resorted to distinctly grisly ways of staying alive as the world roasts towards destruction.
In many ways Hell (the German word for ‘bright’, incidentally) is pretty routine post-apoc stuff; grubby people eking out an existence on a ruined landscape, not much in the way of jokes (nothing, in fact), short, sharp brutal violence. You’ll be reminded of John Hillcoat’s uncomfortable film version of The Road in the early daylight sequences, the picture bleached out and desaturated, the sun blazing down on characters wrapped up against the skin-blistering heat or else hiding inside a car with its windows covered with tape. There’s not much hope and precious little to live for as parched, ragged survivors scavenge for petrol and water just so they can stay alive for another day. Unfortunately Hell forfeits its distinctive ‘look’ as it inevitably wanders into territory we’re all a bit too familiar with and much of the slightly-saggy core of the film sees Hannah falling in with the sort of hillbilly hicks we’ve seen in far too many B-movie horrors. Herzsprung’s gutsy performance as the determined Marie keeps us interested when the film turns its attention to its cardboard cut-out family of baddies rather than the central premise of a world burning to death. It’s only towards the end, when we’re back in the unremitting heat again, that we’re reminded how an idea good enough to sustain the film in its own right has been sacrificed for the sake of generic capture/escape/recapture stuff.
However, Hell is still a stark and powerful film, an impressive achievement on a fairy tiny budget and once again we’re reminded that it’s still possible to tell a good, imaginative science fiction story without having to rely on swathes of CGI and casts of thousands. Hell is ultimately flawed by its lack of originality beyond its fascinating premise but it remains a worthwhile addition to a movie genre which isn’t in danger of running out of fuel any time soon.
Special Features: English subtitles.