Two years after a viral zombie epidemic has left only two German cities uninfected, Vivi (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) and Eva (Maja Lehrer) flee the brutal existence in Weimar and hop an automated train for the other supposed safe haven, Jena.
Gro Swantje Kohlhof
The Happening. Terrible. The Ruins. Pretty good.
But if you go further into sub-genre, how about plant/zombie horror? One title comes to mind. The Girl with All the Gifts (check out my review here).
Well, now there’s something new!
Endzeit (translation: Last Days / English language title: Ever After) is a German horror film with an all female crew – from the writer and director, to the costume designer to the composer.
And I’ll throw this down right at the outset. As I wasn’t a huge fan of The Girl with All the Gifts – it’s not difficult to say that I like Endzeit better.
A worldwide plague has destroyed all but a handful of survivors. In Germany, there are two fenced-in cities where there is some attempt at normalcy, while wandering about outside the fences, are zombie flesh-eaters. Vivi (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) is a sheltered and mentally unstable young woman dealing with some poor choices she made on the day the apocalypse began. When she’s picked to assist at city-fence maintenance, she meets a tough-as-nails girl named Eva (Maja Lehrer). Meanwhile, there’s a solar-powered, unmanned supply train which connects their city with the other inhabited burg. And being fed up with the conditions in their own town, they separately decide to stowaway. Once they realize they are together on the train, they bond and must overcome the stalled train as well as the creatures roaming the countryside.
Both lead performances are good. While I don’t believe the script drew me in quite enough (we do get history for both characters – more for Vivi), I don’t fault the actors. However, by the end credits, I was happy to have known these two girls – and that’s credit to Lehrer and Kohlhof. Vivi has more of a journey than Eva, and so I’d give Kohlhof a bit of an edge as far as a better performance. That character’s carrying some heaping helpings of guilt, and Kohlhof never lets you forget that. In her timidness and her wide eyes, you can see her inner turmoil. And by the film’s end, and at the conclusion of her journey, her physicality changes. My only “complaint” is that I would have liked to see Vivi become stronger throughout, rather than the more abrupt shift she has now. I get why (she finds what she’s looking for), but a more gradual progression would have been a bit more intriguing.
As for Lehrer – Eva’s the tough girl with the hard to crack soft side. The more I think about her performance, the more I appreciate it. We never really see Lehrer overly-emote as Eva. And one scene confirms that she’s bothered by some of her prior, questionable actions, but that she’s ultimately made peace with them. And I feel that this was by choice. Based on where the characters are being led by Mother Nature, Eva’s journey to the film’s conclusion is an easier one than Vivi’s. And Lehrer perfectly captures that hardness.
The cinematography is beautiful, taking advantage of the gorgeous countryside as the girls traverse through dense woods, across sprawling bridges and sweeping meadows. And I loved all of the details when the girls would go into buildings (including an actual castle). All of the rot and dust and decay feels authentic, adding a great deal to the film’s overall atmosphere.
The film is never scary per se. Zombies are inherently frightening to me – based on what they generally represent – but once the revelations of what they are begin to trickle into the story – that terror dissipates. However, there is a scene later in the film where the two girls are crossing a bridge and there is a terrifying chase across, as they are pursued by hundreds of zombies. And it’s wonderfully intense and beautifully shot.
Endzeit is a quite the cautionary tale. Not since Romero’s undead films, has a zombie film been so socially aware. While never saying climate change right out loud, it’s a futuristic (not by much) tale about how Mother Nature has simply had enough, and is taking back what is hers. And what her plans are for the surviving citizens of Earth – it’s ingenious and actually quite inspiring. In our current world marred by nasty politics, the ongoing nuclear threat and the shadow of climate change – I think Mother Nature’s plan in Endzeit makes perfect sense – from her perspective, of course.
The idea here is sort of a continuation of John’s (Terry Alexander) thoughts in 1985’s Day of the Dead. “We’re bein’ punished by the Creator. He visited a curse on us. So that man could look at… what Hell was like. Maybe He didn’t want to see us blow ourselves up, put a big hole in the sky. Maybe He just wanted to show us He’s still the Boss Man. Maybe He figure, we was gettin’ too big for our britches, tryin’ to figure His shit out.” But instead of God himself, it’s Mother Nature at the controls (sort of appropriate, considering the all female crew).
The zombie makeup effects are all good – with excellent plant detail as the greenery takes over those it has infected. I was a bit bummed that some of the gory details are left to imagination – and I’m wondering why. There’s a fight sequence between Vivi and a zombie, where she used a discarded set of decorative deer antlers as a weapon – and a la Fulci’s Zombie, one sharp edge gets a little too close to her own eye. But rather than show it (why not?), it cuts away to the aftermath. Same with some of the zombie attacks/bites. It’s a zombie movie (although esoteric), so we wanna see gnashing, gnawing and flesh-tearing. Am I alone on this?
I had a couple of issues of continuity/reality. Eva’s camera and Discman play prominent prop roles in the film. And as it’s been 2 years since the onset of the disaster – I can’t imagine batteries are in great supply, or if around, that they still have any juice. While a great piece to enhance the story, I didn’t buy that they’d still be in tip-top shape, especially when we see all of the jury-rigging going on in the city with solar panels, etc. A small gripe, but a noticeable flaw nonetheless.
I also wasn’t completely clear on the difference in zombie types. Two versions of the infected are introduced, and I wasn’t quite sure if they were distinct versions for all of time, or if this was something of a progression. I’m being coy, as not to disturb any revelations – but would have liked for this plot point to be spelled out a bit more.
Finally, I really enjoyed most of the dialogue. When Eva and Vivi are at rest, they stare up at the stars, with Eva commenting on how the clear, starry sky is one of the benefits of the apocalypse. And another Eva line – about Mother Nature finally “evicting” us. Very telling, very poetic and very effective.
With a good message about getting back to nature (literally), two strong lead performances and excellent cinematography, Endzeit is an easy recommendation.
It is scheduled to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8th, 2018, but no wider release information is yet available.