Post-apocalyptic stories provide a plethora of unique settings, though also supplying an easy springboard to make a movie for low-budget cinephiles. This is exactly the case for writer/director Brett Bentman’s thriller Apocalypse Road, which follows two sisters searching for a sustainable home in a treacherous countryside, and how they manage each catastrophe plaguing their every turn. However, this is ultimately a mismatched tale of two very different stories rather than siblings. One is a sobering narrative of sisters fighting exorbitant odds in a quasi-lawless wasteland, the other a tired game of cat-and-mouse swarming with cliches and forced moralization.
“…a sobering narrative of sisters fighting exorbitant odds in a quasi-lawless wasteland…”
After a hasty twinge of backstory consisting of a quote from Revelations and a brief interview, we catch up with the estranged sisters Natalie (Katie Kohler) and Sarah West (Ashlyn McEvers) as they scrounge for supplies. This takes them through an undefined bloodbath of civilians, where they run across a marshall (played by executive producer Bill Nicholas) who confesses that the nearby prison will soon experience a revolt. In an effort to stay ahead of the inevitable carnage, and being shadowed by the silent sniper Hugo (Lance De Los Santos), they make every attempt to make it to the coast, as rumors of aid and salvation drive their every step. Circumstances soon physically divide the pair and they have to find new and dangerous ways to survive and reunite.
Michael Ray Lewis makes the most resounding splash with his dual roles crafting Apocalypse Road’s meticulous cinematography and seamless editing, with many scenes built of fairly impressive long takes gliding amidst the action. Special effects by Andy Arrasmith and Shelly Denning deliver bursts of cruel violence, commendable for their realist approach overexploitation and sparse but effective use of CGI. Kohler and McEvers’ acting is touch-and-go, achieving moments of poignant relatable sadness and anxiety, though their cardboard characters never establish a believable chemistry. Ben Rigsby Jr. and Todd Jenkins have some scattershot moments of sincerity that lead the supporting cast, with Nellie Sciutto and Tom Zembrod providing their mannerist overacting as camera fodder.
“It is absolutely entertaining…”
The blocking of each scene is handled efficiently by Bentman, albeit a bit stiff and (at times) nonsensical, though this is primarily due to the movie’s most major flaw: the screenplay. Though sporting a tautly-wound first half built on the relationship of the sisters, it quickly falls apart as stereotypical antagonists are introduced to mildly soapbox about the breakdown of society and to pick off supporting characters. Riddled with plot holes and nonsequiturs, Apocalypse Road never definitively defines what exactly happened to the world; though the quote at the beginning could imply it was after the rise of the Antichrist, its left frustratingly (and unnecessarily) ambiguous. The film’s constant shifting between an anarchic war zone, a Big Brother-esque dystopia, and post-apocalypse wouldn’t have been so out of place if each element weren’t so starkly different than the other. Though I feel this is a result of its numerous and conflicting allusions to and hijacked elements from Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) and John Hillcoat’s The Road (2009).
This film possesses equal parts capability and ineptitude all in the same breath, and it’s astounding. It is absolutely entertaining, with its shot design and editorial flow bringing out the achievable best from every production element. However, its shambled character arcs, cliched dialogue, mostly stilted acting and exasperatingly vague worldbuilding overshadow the rest and truly define the Apocalypse Road experience.
Apocalypse Road (2016) Directed by Brett Bentman. Written by Brett Bentman. Starring: Katie Kohler, Ashlyn McEvers, Nellie Sciutto, Lance De Los Santos.
★★★ / ☆☆☆☆☆