It's the end of the world and with civilization in turmoil Scott Weaver has to take his wife and their two teenage-children and flee the city. Traveling through the woods in an attempt to remain unnoticed they can feel that they're being followed by something. Could it be a group of armed men? Could it be people who've turned to cannibalism? Or is it something much worse, something so evil that it caused the destruction of the world?
Recently I watched the wildly popular and critically acclaimed "Stake Land" -- the post-apocalyptic dystopian flick about a world overrun with vicious vampires that have a close resemblance to zombies. I had been hearing about how good the movie was so I finally checked it out and ultimately I wasn't impressed. I know people expect that because they assume I hate everything that is popular but that's not the case. "Stake Land" was a very basic and ho-hum movie: the characters were typical, the vampires could be switched out with zombies or mutants and you'd still have the same story, and the sub-plot with the cult felt pointless. It was a good movie that was well made and I don't have any REAL complaints outside of it being typical but it just didn't have anything that made it memorable. However I have seen another recent dystopian movie called "The Collapsed" -- a low-budget indie horror movie from Canada that brings something special and dare I say, unique, to the post-apocalyptic table and one that I thought trumped "Stake Land".
"The Collapsed" is about Scott Weaver, his wife Emily and their kids (teenagers/young-adults) Aaron and Rebecca who are fleeing a destroyed city and heading out to a more rural area in hopes of finding something, possibly hope or salvation. The audience is much like Scott and his family; we don't know why the world has fallen or what is out there but we know that there is something. Something evil that is looking to destroy every living person and no matter how fast and how far they run it's always there, waiting in the shadows.
The movie is a successful showcase of the less-is-more approach of telling a story and it felt refreshing since outside of "The Road" it seems like all recent dystopian movies want to do the same thing: show people walking around rubble and remains of our world while they kill people turned into savages or a variety of monsters. Enjoyable if you're looking for popcorn-entertainment but it's hard to find something outstanding in a sea of bland and redundant titles. That's why I found "The Collapsed" to be something special; it has a very strong horror element but it keeps the audience guessing as to what "it" is and what has happened. The horror aspect manages to find a nice middle ground and share it with the drama and family dynamic element of the story. It's the right kind of relationship where one doesn't over power the other or the primary focus doesn't flip back and forth between the two. "The Collapsed" is a solid character film that makes the viewing experience more worthwhile since there is sincerity in the story that's being told -- the characters are believable. But the horror part is always there as both the characters and audience can feel the presence of the threat without seeing it. It builds the tension and affects how Scott and his family progress throughout the movie, showing the physical and mental wear, while they try to find some sort of salvation.
The fact that the movie never quite reveals anything with a certainty. It never says, "This is what it is and this is what's going on." Is something probably going to disappoint a number of viewers -- it wasn't until the reception of "Dawning" did I realize how much people don't like vagueness when it comes to certain types of horror movies. To me, ultimately, it was the fact that "The Collapsed" doesn't spoon feed you plot points and is willing to leave you with questions is why it was so engaging and so good. Wanting to know where these people were going, what was going to happen to them, and what was out there waiting for them really drew me in and is what keeps everything going. It's a slow-burn that has you anticipating the big reveal that is almost shocking in a sense and one that brings the movie full circle and makes it a little more unique. Again though, you can't expect the ending to give you all the answers since it does want you to ask questions even after it's over.
Other than the story, the other aspect that makes "The Collapsed" an impressive indie feature is that it boasts a very slick production with some solid cinematography and a great score to boot. With any low-to-no budget independent movie, I'm always willing to be lenient towards the production values since people try to make due with what they have. That's not a factor with "The Collapsed" as they did a lot with little and created some visually appealing scenes and imagery. Part of this was by taking the surviving family out of the gray and washed out ruins that we usually see and into the green and a little more vibrant wilderness. The woods or wilderness is not an uncommon location for a desolate future but it was something a little different to what we've been seeing lately. But in general the cinematography isn't the typical filtered hand-held digital imagery, rather Justin and his crew created something that I believe can go toe-to-toe with any of the big boys. It's something that I think will help bring more people into the movie; in particular those who are afraid of independent movies because of the stereotype that they are inferior in quality.
When I compared "The Collapsed" with "Stake Land" at the beginning of the review it wasn't for the purpose of starting a pissing contest of which is better. Rather, if "Stake Land" is a movie that has everyone amped up then I think "The Collapsed" deserves to get as much praise and attention, if not more. When Trevor Juenger (director of the excellent short film "Johnny Be Gone") recommended the movie, I checked out the trailer and thought the movie showed a lot of promise and still it managed to really impress me and surpass any expectations. Clearly I'm not alone as the movie has managed to garner praise from a lot of the media big-boys and has even been selected to be apart of Rue Morgue's Festival of Fear. Which is why I'm glad that Justin McConnell was willing to send a screener our little site and why I consider myself lucky to be in the position that I'm in. That's to be able to see a great movie like this and to tell you guys to go out and see it. It's not a perfect or flawless movie and I don't mean to make it sound like it is, but it's a great character and family dynamic story with an engaging horror element that creates a damn good atmosphere that makes it worth the time watching it.