Aftermath Review

Posted: July 19, 2014 in Reviews, Thriller
Tags: , , , , , ,

AFTERMATHThey don’t make movies like Aftermath anymore. Full-scale nuclear war has fallen out of favor as a source of cinematic anxiety, reflecting the real world changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago. Oh, Hollywood will never swear off nukes all together, any more than they would give up Nazis. But now, it’s the suitcase device or the rogue nation warhead in the wrong hands. Get James Bond or Jack Bauer on the job, and badda bing, badda boom, all’s right in the world in a couple of hours, although there may be a teeny bit of collateral damage. (24 did nuke part of LA in season six, but it was just strip malls and warehouses; no good restaurants were lost in the filming.)

Aftermath follows belatedly in the tradition of The Day After, a 1983 TV movie that showed the effects of nuclear war on the midwest United States through the eyes of an Everyman played by Jason Robards. It’s 30 days after in this case, with a backpacking doctor from NYU named Hunter (C.J. Thomason) inexplicably traipsing through the barren north Texas landscape, armed only with an encyclopedic knowledge of exactly what needs to be done when the bombs start falling. And fall they do, after a series of news broadcasts set the world stage for us through the familiar buzz words. It’s like Payton Manning calling a bizarre audible: “Pakistan…Israel…Allah…Hike!”

When the ball’s snapped here, we get a bright light and a mushroom cloud on the horizon. Hunter starts picking up strays immediately thereafter, including the there’s-gotta-be-one-in-each-movie-like-this kid who looked directly into the blast and now must wear a bandage over his eyes for the rest of the film. Hunter then goes down the checklist: throw a couple of chicks into the back of the pick-up, stop by the convenience store for the necessities, and look for a place to waste away. He finds a basement containing a dork, an old guy, a pregnant woman, and Edward Furlong. Since his early star turns in Terminator 2 and American History X, Furlong has dealt with substance abuse problems and has been arrested three times for domestic violence. It’s difficult to call his role in Aftermath as an abusive husband inspired casting.

Hunter and his gang invite themselves to the party, settle into the cellar, and get ready to die from radiation poisoning. How do you like your nihilism – straight up with archetypes? Then, Aftermath has you covered. The number starts at nine, and goes up and down from there. Waste disposal is an issue, with questions like “where do we go to the bathroom?” and “what do we do with the dead body?” needing pretty quick responses.

The film is not bad for what it is. The characters avoid getting on each other’s nerves (and the viewers’) as best they can considering the cramped space and limited plot options. Furlong overplays it in the early going, but then settles down. Thomason as Hunter is adequate; Ross Britz as the dork is better. Cinematographer Scott Winig and director Peter Engert collaborate on some nice exterior scenes at the beginning and end of the film. And a big shout out to a big guy, Randall Reeder, who is billed as Cowboy Hat, but should have been named Man Mountain. He’s one of a motley bunch of pseudo zombies that are trying to break into the basement. Reeder’s wild-eyed crazy bit needs to be in every exploitation movie made in the next five years.

“Nothing is his life became him like the leaving it.” That line from Macbeth is apropos in considering Aftermath.  What is left when hope disappears? How long do you fight when you know what is inevitable? How will you leave the stage? The film raises the issues, but is not fully successful in addressing them. The last image on screen is powerful and touching and disturbing. It lingers, but not long enough.

Two stars.

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