The marketing might make much of Roland Emmerich producing involvement, but while this low-budget German survivor story is set the day after tomorrow but it's about as far from The Day After Tomorrow as you can get. The sun is flaring and Earth's temperature has risen ten degrees. A group of survivors, led by tough Marie (Hannah Herzsprung), make their way toward the mountains, toward water.
As with John Hillcoat's The Road, this is a tale about the day-to-day fight for survival after a nameless cataclysm has befallen the planet. But while Hillcoat's film was perennially chilly, writer-director Tim Fehlbaum's is all about the lethal glare of the sun. The conceit of the characters having to avoid direct sunlight seems like an affectionate nod to Kathryn Bigelow's vampire classic Near Dark. It adds an intriguing extra dimension to many scenes.
The film begins as a fairly standard waste-crawler, but gradually turns into a Texas Chain Saw Massacre-style nightmare, as Marie and her sister find themselves the prisoners of a ghastly family, led by a monstrous matriarch, horribly rational and literal in her attempts to ensure her family's survival.
Fehlbaum draws impressive intensity from the actors and delivers a series of tense set-pieces. In the final act I feared events would lurch into torture porn territory, but on the contrary, it's at this point that the films characters properly emerge, and the humanity of the piece comes to light. What could have been a film about cannibalism is actually about sisterhood.
On a technical level, the film is well shot. But the editing is at times of the chaotic variety: needless rapid cutting. I guess this technique is meant to bring across the thrill and confusion of the moment, but for me the filmmaker is giving us a sense of the experience at the expense of us actually understanding what's going on. Not a trade worth making, in my opinion.
There's nothing much new in Hell, but as a refined, engrossing amalgamation of well-worn ideas, it hangs together nicely, all the way up to the disappointingly sudden ending.