Juliette, a lone survivor of an apocalyptic era, fights to survive against hunger, thirst, a broken leg and strange disturbing creatures that only comes out at nighttime.
Hostile is a new post-apocalyptic horror/drama which held its North American premiere at the 4th annual Filmquest Film Festival in Provo, Utah.
Sometime in the near future, and following a deadly apocalypse, a woman named Juliette (Brittany Ashworth) roams the desolate countryside in a beat-up old van – searching for supplies and fuel. At a deserted gas station, she narrowly avoids something large and apparently dangerous on the floor above. Back on the road, a photograph of her with a yet unknown bearded man flies out of her window. She automatically attempts to grab it, turning the wheel of her fast-moving vehicle. She flips several times and is left unconscious. When she awakens some time later, she has a compound fracture of one of her legs, her gun is out of reach and it is dark. And then come the noises from outside – sounding like the creature she almost encountered in the gas station. As she struggles to get through the pain and to find escape – she flashes back to her life prior to the apocalypse – her addiction, her lover (Gregory Fitoussi) and the beginning of the end.
Right off the bat, one of my big gripes of the film was the wishy-washy performance from Ashworth as Juliette. I feel her performance was better in the present (read: post-apocalyptic future) rather than in the flashbacks. And frankly, it felt like some sort of roller-coaster ride (not in a good way), as from scene to scene, she was good to great and then flat to not-so-great. Rinse and repeat.
I was most pleased with Ashworth’s physical work. With that early-on injury, she must struggle with the handicap for the rest of the film as danger lurks around every corner. The pain – her grunting, screeching and frustration is solid. In some of her scenes in the past – specifically her introductions to Jack – the performance didn’t ring true.
Javier Botet (Mama, IT) is billed third in the opening credits (it’s nice to see him get higher billing). He plays one of the very mysterious and unexplained creatures roaming the dusty countryside. He’s what has been termed “a body actor” – his physical differences (elongated digits and limbs) used to effect to create an other-worldly, almost mutated effect. All of the work I’ve seen him in (particularly the little known Spanish import, Witching and Bitching – see my review here) shows that he’s a quality actor – in or out of heavy makeup.
As Jack, the male lead – Gregory Fitoussi does a serviceable job as Juliette’s love. He’s appropriately attractive and confident. But there’s not much asked of him within the script.
I didn’t believe the connection between the two lead characters at the outset, and so it felt as though the relationship’s build throughout, was always playing catch-up. The chemistry between the actors wasn’t anything special. And although the film’s final moments (I’ll discuss those further in a bit) were intriguing (some lovely and subtle foreshadowing) – I didn’t quite buy the relationship.
I didn’t care for the structure of the film — it goes back and forth in time. This story-telling device serves to give us plenty of history for Juliette, but it also just kills the pacing. In the present (again, post-apocalypse), things are tense and enjoyable (properly matching Ashworth’s best acting moments). But in the past – the film flirts with being melodramatic, or even soap-operatic.
The final payoff, while somewhat touching – wasn’t pulled off completely. The flashbacks take place in present day New York City – and then all of the present stuff is in some desert wasteland. Where is this wasteland? ‘cause if it isn’t in the same place as New York City – it’s a bit much to ask of the audience to buy into this.
Reason being, there was never any explanation – other than a chemical terrorist attack – so the strange mutants roaming the countryside, feeding off of humans – have no origin story. How much time has passed? And where did these things come from?
The production values are quite beautiful. In the dusty apocalypse, the rundown locations (an abandoned gas station in particular) were striking and properly Mad Max-esque. In the present, big city stuff, it looks as if no expense was spared. High end apartments and homes and busy city streets lend authenticity and certainly an insight into these characters’ lives. But again – these scenes were not the strongest of the film.
The make-up for the unnamed Javier Botet creature is quite good – although with Botet’s specific body type – the make-up work is reminiscent of his characters in the REC franchise.
There are a couple of noticeable continuity errors which – when they’re this obvious – they present a distraction from the film as a whole. First up is an edit which places the two lead characters in different positions from one angle to the other. And then there’s the placement of Juliette’s pistol in a climactic fight scene – which is suddenly available to our heroine, when it wasn’t physically possible based on where the gun ended up. And this one is a biggie, as the gun plays a pivotal role all throughout the film. To the naked eye of a random movie-goer, these things might go by unnoticed. But to me – again – they’re annoying distractions.
I do have to point out – that while it’s not a film about “boo” moments, there are a few good ones, and among those, one exceptional jump scare. It took me by surprise and will certainly be a memorable bit from this film.
At this year’s Filmquest, Hostile was nominated for a whopping TWELVE awards, including Best Feature Film, Best Feature Director for Mathieu Turi, Best Feature Screenplay, Best Lead Actress in a Feature for Brittany Ashworth, Best Supporting Actor for a Feature for Gregory Fitoussi, Best Foreign Film (winner), Best Editing for a Feature, Best Production Design for a Feature, Best Costumes for a Feature, Best Sound for a Feature, Best Visual Effects for a Feature and Best Makeup for a Feature (winner).
With strong production values, but an unappetizing structure and an on-again/off-again lead performance, I can’t do much better than a solid 3 rating – out of 5. Not the kiss of death, but there are too many problems here to go any higher.
Hostile is making its way across the festival landscape (post-apocalyptic landscape?) and has been announced as an official selection at the forthcoming 17th Annual Shriekfest in Los Angeles.