Post-apocalyptic horror flicks seem to have become more and more derivative of late, especially when zombies or other mutated baddies are the cause for societal collapse. For every 28 Days Later, there’s an overabundance of knock-offs jockeying for space on your favorite streaming service. While Mathieu Turi’s Hostile steals pages from some of the best films of this genre (including Mad Max: Fury Road, The Road, and elements of The Terminator), the filmmaker does take some unique chances by weaving back and forth in time and ratcheting up the scares by staging much of the action within the confined space of a ruined van. However, Turi flies too close to the sun in the final part of the third act, bringing the flick down with an unfortunate, resonating thud.
“…leg impaled by the steering wheel and her pistol out of reach…that’s when the monsters come out.”
The film opens with a young woman, in full Furiosa garb, crisscrossing an arid environment in her battered van in search of supplies. Obviously, something horrible has occurred as the landscape is barren and scarred, devoid of life except the other occasional scavenger and the dreaded reapers (not the Harry Potter kind) — horribly disfigured creatures who prey upon those caught unawares in the wasteland. Just in case you weren’t paying attention, she whisks past a “Welcome To…” road sign spray painted with the warning “All Dead” in macabre letters, driving the point home. Juliette, as we come to know her name, is on her way back from a supply run when a freak accident occurs, causing her van to crash and land dramatically upside down. With her leg impaled by the steering wheel and her pistol out of reach, help from her never seen compatriots is denied just as night begins to fall. And, like in most children’s fairy tales, that’s when the monsters — in this case, the reapers — come out.
As all this well-paced action unfolds, the filmmaker constantly shifts in time, filling out Juliette’s backstory. As a pretty young woman crashing Manhattan art gallery openings for free food and booze, this Juliette is also a drug dealer, addict, and prostitute — like Jessica Jones without the super-powers and more heroin. As fate would have it, at one of these art galleries, she encounters Jack — a tall, dark, and handsome French art-gallery owner who is straight from a central casting call for “Eurotrash boyfriend.” (I swear, I could smell the Drakkar-Noir wafting off him each time he appeared onscreen.) But, I digress. Jack dashes in as Juliette’s knight in shining armor, helping her get clean and leave her sordid life behind. They wed, shack up in a new house, and begin a life of domestic bliss. However, in a one-two punch of misfortune, Juliette miscarries, which upends the couple’s relationship, and Jack is the victim of a terrorist chemical attack.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me! Fer Chrissakes…”
Cut back to the van where Juliette has dislodged herself from the steering wheel just as she is discovered by a hungry reaper. This excellently art-directed, extended sequence — with our protagonist trying to stay alive while confined in a poorly secured space — was the most effective and unsettling part of the film. With echoes of the Ryan-Reynolds-trapped-in-a-coffin flick Buried, Juliette fights to stay alive until the morning as the reaper and a would-be cannibal (after all, any post-apocalyptic flick worth its salt has gotta have cannibals) are closing in to seal her doom. The filmmaker gets a lot of mileage by having a wounded protagonist trapped in such a predicament. As her bullets are expended, and survival schemes thwarted, it doesn’t look good for our heroine. But she summons up her inner Sigourney Weaver just when all hope seems lost.
Now, if only the filmmaker had rolled the credits at this point, this would have been a tidy little indie horror film (Eurotrash boyfriend/husband and all), well worth an evening’s rental. But the coda that Turi stacks on the end is so hamfisted that I literally yelled out, “You have got to be fucking kidding me!” Fer Chrissakes, where were the producers whose job it is to steer a director away from such pretentious narrative cliffs? All of which is a shame because in a fight between films that employ neat maudlin endings vs. ambiguous difficult closures, I’ll bet (and pony up my money) on the latter every time.
Hostile (2018) Directed by Mathieu Turi. Starring Brittany Ashworth, Grégory Fitoussi, and Javier Botet.
5 out of 10 stars