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observation notes: The Apocalypse

Another from The Asylum's Faith Films subdivision, and one of three religious-based global-catastrophe spectacles - along with Meteor Apocalypse and 2012: Doomsday - The Apocalypse is, generally speaking, the story of one family's attempt to survive - physically and spiritually - the widespread chaos referenced by the title. And be certain, "apocalypse" here isn't some catch-all, rote end-of-the-world scenario; it's the full-on, soul-shattering brouhaha that makes Revelations easily the most popular book in the Bible.

Our film opens with a group of campers - among them cameos by Sarah Lieving and Leigh Scott - enjoying campfire conversation beneath a sky beautifully streaked with shooting stars. By "shooting stars," of course, I mean "meteorites," one of them fuc-, sorry, bleeping huge and heralded by a barrage of smaller projectiles that fall from the sky and rip this bucolic scene and its inhabitants to shreds. Thus the apocalypse begins.

Cut to a rugged park ranger (Rhett Giles) on the scene of a massive housefire. While he and his partner are stumped, we know it was a rain of hot rocks from the sky that torched the home. Soon enough they'll know it too: on the drive back to town, they discover said town has been eradicated, turned into a mass of molten rubble, courtesy of the heavens. Panicked now, it is revealed that RG has a daughter (Kristen Quintrall) he hasn't spoken to in quite a while living in Los Angeles; when the end is finally nigh, grudges and bygones are the first things to go.

Cut to said daughter, playfully frolicking with her boyfriend (Tom Nagel) while the world outside, unbeknown to them, is going to utter shit....sorry..."crap." This blissfully ignorant moment soon passes, however, when a roommate of the daughter (she has three, one of whom, not this one, is played by Erica Roby) calls them out to witness news footage of the widespread damage. The daughter freaks because the epicenter of the damage, Big Sur, is near where her mom, RG's ex (Jill Stapely), now resides. She's ready to run out the door into the heart of the devastation when a convenient phonecall comes from her mom: she's okay, she's coming to L.A., stay put til she gets there. It's at this point, maybe thirteen minutes in, that we get the first direct reference to God, made by another of the daughter's roommates, (still not Roby, but Shaley Scott, who may be related to Leigh Scott, as all four films she's acted in have been his) in reference to the entity with whom those lost in the day's holocaust now reside. This opinion is quickly shot down by the daughter, who seems a little too defensive to be idly philosophizing. But more on this to come.

Back to RG, who's watching the news, trying to get some idea of what's going on where. There's no big scientific explanation here, no scenes full of techno-garble, only raw data: a massive meteorite has shattered nearby and its shards are battering the planet, not just in California but everywhere in the country, in the world. At this point the Ex pops in on her way to see the daughter, finds RG and his partner amidst these startling discoveries. Well, she's got one more for them: this isn't going to be the only barrage, there's another meteorite coming, bigger, "the size of Texas" (aren' t they always?) and thus much more destructive, "an extinction starter." Call it what you will, use as many colorful nicknames as you can, but make no bones about it: the world is ending, real quickly, too, so the Ex demands that RG puts his bullshit - dammit, dam- "malarkey" behind him and accompany her to see their daughter before it's too late. While RG is pensively mulling this over, his partner makes the decision for him, saying that he is leaving them to reunite with his estranged father. Somehow this is the final straw that snaps the camel's back of RG's hesitance, and he realizes that it's all real, that it's really happening - the end. Make your peace and smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Meanwhile, in L.A., the daughter further ups the religious content by taking her boyfriend to a nearby church, understandably overrun with the frightened faithful. Contrary to what I was expecting - any time someone bothers to make an overtly Christian film, I naturally expect a fair amount of persuasion - this scene is very non-judgmental, non-dogmatic, and instead of painting the Christian faith as a self-righteous, all-powerful judging force, it is depicted as being a communal spirit of comfort, something the faithful make to support each other, the best, truthfully, one can hope organized religion to be: flexible to the needs of its flock while providing a constant base of faith and hope for salvation, physical or spiritual. At least, this how I see the daughter sees it. The boyfriend, on the other hand, is still skeptical, pointing to the perspective of most contemporary young folk that it isn't particularly fashionable or "groovy" to be a practicing Christian. Ultimately, however, it seems this line of passive questioning has only been inserted to make the point to any watching youths with their own doubts that such things are necessary, and in fact planted by God to test our faith, and therefore are further, stronger proof of his existence. I think. Religious rhetoric, perhaps purposely, confuses me. They (the producers) are embracing the youth's ambiguous stance toward faith and turning it to faith's advantage, is what I mean, is what I think they mean. Or maybe I'm just analyzing out of my ass - sorry, "rear-end," parting seas inside puddles. Either way, on with the mayhem, which kicks into high gear here.

RG and the Ex are on the road to L.A. and their daughter, racing a mega meteor hell-bent on sending them all to heaven. This is when the actual Rapture begins. The Actual Rapture, people disappearing and stuff. From here the film becomes a battle between faith and tragedy, both overwhelming, and what The End means to each individual character - the regretful father, the faithful ex, the headstrong, independent daughter and fearful boyfriend - and how they rectify their lives in the face of certain death. Spoilers beyond, so I relent.

 Overall, I found this film to be powerful, chilling and painfully realistic in its depiction of modern society's reaction to such a cataclysm: the chaos that compiles into anarchy, the muddle of fear and faith and hope and despondency and love that would naturally accompany total global annihilation is present and palpable here, thanks to wonderful FX - decapitation by meteorite, dudes melting in lava, waterspouts, tornadoes, mass structural damage and explosions galore, all courtesy of Tiny Juggernaut - that were pretty brutal for a Christian film, a string-based soundtrack (that was the highlight of pretty splotchy sound editing, especially when it came to vocals vs. explosions) that eerily set the mood between dismal and righteous, and a taut script from David Michael Latt and Carlos de los Rios that is both powerful and provocative, religious without being overbearing, and presents logical questions I think most of us - regardless of religious background, if any - would ask ourselves in the face of certain, inescapable oblivion. And of course, all these elements are brought together and anchored into a cohesive story by the intense, claustrophobic - I mean that as a compliment - direction of Justin Jones (Invasion of the Pod People) and the startlingly authentic performances by the trio of actors that seem entirely submerged - mentally, emotionally, spiritually - in the final moments of all our lives. Rhett Giles (Frankenstein Reborn, Way of the Vampire) plays his regretful park ranger as skeptically concerned, viciously brooding, and the tense center of the film. As a contrast, Jill Stapely (nothing else of note) inhabits the role of his ex-wife with ruthless faith, making her the spiritual anchor of the film, the unwavering light. 

But the most powerful performance of a powerfully-performed film - one of the best-acted in The Asylum's filmography, I dare say - belongs to Kristen Quintrall, who, as the wavering candleflame between her parents' viewpoints, the balance between their beliefs, raised faithful but with independent questions of her own, serves to represent the rest of us, those of us lacking the certainty of either philosophical extreme and who would find ourselves in the face of such a trauma just plain scared. Quintrall is an emotional juggernaut in this film, showcasing some big-time chops that could make her a veritable star in the genre. Plus, oh yeah, she edited the film too, pretty well, I'll point out. So, yeah, what did you do today?

All in all, while I typically don't go in for the rhetoric of these things - I was raised religious in the rural South, so I've had a good helping of all that stuff and find myself, well, stuffed - I still found this to be an engaging, exciting, thought-provoking and eerily resonant film. 

And I got through this whole post without an R.E.M. quip. It might not sound like much to you, but I'm proud of myself.

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