Release Date: December 5, 2017 (VOD Platforms)
Director: Brett Bentman
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 87 minutes
Writer-director Brett Bentman’s Apocalypse Road is a misleading title of the highest, most criminally insulting order. Not only does the majority of the trek under taken by the pair of sisters at the center of this woefully inert thriller place them far from roads of any description, but the film’s assertion that what they are hiking and surviving through is indeed an apocalypse of world ending, societal overthrowing proportions is even more dubious. Our sibling protagonists encounter raiders, hear tales of prison camps, and resolve themselves to head to the nondescript “coast” as the last apparent vestiges of society can apparently be found there, but through all these events Apocalypse Road never feels it proper to give a name to its dystopian scenario, and thus the film has no real purpose to exist. When I cannot envision the world you attempt to build, then I become suspicious if you actually had one or was just making due with what you had at your disposal.
Due to its vague approach to the end of days, Apocalypse Road sells you on on the idea that all citizens in some distant future that is never made clear are either “marked” with a symbol that suspiciously resembles a QR code or safe to roam the anarchist wastes of what is left of society. How exactly a “mark” spearheaded a social Darwinian revolution where gun toting marauders rule the land and any form of government mandated order is obsolete is frustratingly never explained. As a scriptwriter, Bentman has mastered outlining his plot in the vaguest terms possible seductively fooling you into thinking there is indeed a narrative occurring and not just an indie filmmaker shooting in a junkyard or a construction site and calling it an apocalypse. He throws around words like the aforementioned “mark” or “to be marked” but never explains what that means, how it happens, or why it matters to the story he tells. The glaring issue with this film is when you refuse to define your apocalypse scenario at an approachable level, we cannot determine if everything we see taking place in this world is justified.
The leading ladies whose personalities are identical (and I’m not even sure if they are named), face trials as they make their journey to wherever the script told them to go, but because I know nothing of this world how can I feel anything for their struggle? Survival may be a universally understood concept, but how far gone is this society in question? They wander past plenty of reminders to how bad the world is in the form of bloody bodies here and there, but why exactly we should find this concerning is never made apparent. Were they murdered by the ubiquitous marauders? We only see one group of raider types and their motivations are never made clear though the Purge-esque translucent mask one of them wears points to them being in it for the shits and giggles of raiding. Blonde Girl #1 and Blonde Girl #2 have some sort of quest to get to “the coast” for what I assumed was safety although it’s never made clear, but where these threats are coming from is never made explicit enough for me to actually care.
As apocalyptic adventure films go, this is a shockingly boring attempt that speaks more to the DIY resourcefulness of Bentman than any determinable dystopian vision. This is the end of the world on a shoestring budget and I’ll admit the effect is charming in a volunteer community theatre kind of way. We are signalled to the world being in a state of anarchy and decay by the costume department dressing all the characters in scruffy cargo pants, denim, hoodies and flak jackets. By the locations scout finding abandoned buildings, hiking trails, long stretches of open field, and junkyards to ensure we can’t catch a glimpse of the real world Bentman shoots around (though you can hilariously hear the sound equipment pick up the occasional passing car). By vague statements from roaming non-characters like “When the world comes for you, it keeps coming,” and “Insane times call for insane behaviour.” We are constantly TOLD this is an apocalypse our bland protagonists make their pilgrimage through, but there is no conviction in this statement no matter how oft repeated.
I was curious as I drifted away from Apocalypse Road‘s dull meandering if it is possible to have an apocalypse scenario in a film and yet be light on details. I was reminded of It Comes at Night, a film from earlier this year which took place during the end days of some type involving an airborne infection, but remained both vague and compelling. Why that worked and Road fails miserably is because It Comes at Night was a tight, focused film that never bothered with a larger picture of the world it took place in and instead was exclusively concerned with the one family living through the epidemic. They never had to answer the question of how this world came to be because they never had time to ponder it. Apocalypse Road has all of its dragging 87 minutes to let your mind wander and because they set their world up with one too many unjustified ambiguities, the end result is an infuriating mess.
As cheap as they come and uninteresting to boot, Bentman bit off way more than he could chew with the scope of his own half-baked apocalypse. Why end of the world scenarios are so popular with the cheapy indie crowd is beyond me because it takes a lot of creative workaround to sell a dystopia we aren’t allowed to even see. It isn’t impossible, but Apocalypse Road wrongly believes some vague question dodging is an acceptable substitute for dedicated world building.