Monday 18 May 2020

Edge of Extinction (UK 2020: Dir Andrew Gilbert) NEW WAVE OF THE BRITISH FANTASTIC FILM 2020

While post apocalypse films are very popular as subject matter for independent filmmakers, it's often hard to see them as anything other than exercises in grubby men and women charging about the countryside, with some infected people giving chase.

Andrew Gilbert's second feature eschews a lot of the genre standbys in favour of an extended (and at 144 minutes I do mean extended) look at post nuclear de-humanised society in freefall.

We're introduced to a small band of characters who with one exception are without names, to emphasise the erasure of their collective identities. The Boy (Luke Hobson) lives in a building with a well stocked supply cupboard, which we quickly learn, in a time of extreme hardship and hunger, is just asking to be plundered (although personally I'd skip the suggestion of wood pigeon for main course). Through The Boy's memories we learn that it's been fifteen years since the end of a devastating nuclear war across the world; the UK has been spared the worst of the fighting - and the effects of the warheads - but is nevertheless a country where most resources are non existent. Indeed an early scene shows that rival gangs - called 'roadrats', complete with Mad Max style blackened faces - have resorted to cannibalism for their sustenance. The Boy's younger brother has died along the way, as have his parents, murdered by a looter when he was still a child.

On one of his foraging trips The Boy encounters The Girl (Georgie Smibert), who appears to be on her own; but she's been set up as a decoy by her off/on boyfriend called The Man (Chris Kaye) and his gang, who attack The Boy's stash of food. The Boy vows revenge, but instead bumps into, and gets captured by the 'roadrats' under the command of their sadistic leader (Bryn Hodgen) and his deputy, the sleazy Overseer (Neil Summerville). The Chief has already captured a girl for his pleasure, Chloe (Eve Kathryn Oliver), and soon rapes The Girl to assert his dominance. The Boy and The Man must attempt to marshal their forces to free the women and escape the ultra violent gang, before they become the latest delicacy on the menu of the 'roadrats.'

Edge of Extinction's title is, for once, not a hyperbolic one. Gilbert creates a believable world of societal breakdown, in contrast perhaps to the UK's rather polite response to current pandemic events; an early scene of shoppers stockpiling at a supermarket, and being attacked and shot in the car park, is extremely eerie (the director apparently started filming the movie as long ago as 2017 on his free weekends, so could not have predicted the prescience of the scenario). The extent to which the viewer buys into to this world is highlighted in later scenes where the group come across a couple, who live in a clean, modern house in the woods. We realise that until that moment we've been exposed to 90 minutes of grime, dirt and darkness: it's quite a shock.

While we do learn some facts about the main characters in the movie, Gilbert is generally happy for them to be seen as ciphers for the breakdown of society; when people are killed - and the film is often incredibly violent - the audience are encouraged to be as blasé about the deaths as the cast seem to be. The director's aim is to show a desensitised society who have degenerated within a fifteen year timespan, and the impressive use of real, derelict locations, all discovered in the countryside of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, underscores the decay to great effect. Edge of Extinction won't be a film for everyone - it's quite slow and the 'action' is often repetitive. But to conjure such a credible future world on a small budget is quite the feat. Recommended then.

Edge of Extinction is released across all major On Demand and Download platforms from 18 May, with a DVD released later in the year.

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