So, what corner of the imagination does scorched earth, apocalyptic movies touch, and why are they one of the enduring favorites? First, there’s nothing quite like the prospect of civilization coming to an end and a return to the law of the jungle to jack up the dramatic tension. And could our fascination with end-of-the-world stories be wrapped up in the modern belief that the planet is doomed? With a decaying environment, the threat of nuclear weapons and pestilence, it’s easy to imagine the misfortunes that could lay a community to waste—leaving it a trash heap where we’re reduced to eating cold beans out of a can, using a bucket as a toilet and pumping shotgun shells into the brush to hold the jackals at bay.
In Zero, we see the aftermath of a destructive force that has ravaged the earth. Notes on the film say a mysterious electromagnetic pulse has rendered the world’s technology useless, but unless I missed something we’re simply left to imagine what’s turned the landscape into the most barren slice of property this side of Dogpatch. Alice (Bella Ramsey) and her father, John (Nigel O’Neill), are holing up in a ramshackle residence stocked with enough supplies to get them through a nuclear winter.
“Alice’s pop has spray-painting warnings on the walls, telling her not to trust anyone and never leave the house … ”
A staticky logo, reminiscent of the Emergency Alert System that was supposed to warn us of a pending disaster, sizzles on a TV screen. Alice’s father has spray-painted warnings on the walls, telling her not to trust anyone and never leave the house — not exactly decorative touches that would land you in the pages of Home Beautiful, but under these circumstances, dad’s cautionary tips appear to be on the money.
Like all movies about people trapped in a confined space that’s under siege, whether it’s Assault on Precinct 13 or Night of the Living Dead, it’s all about would-be transgressors who try to break down the walls and get into your safe space. That can lead the ones who are safe and protected to face agonizing questions — are the others friends or foes, and even if they are friendly, can I spare the space and provisions to save another human being? Alice is left to fend for herself, and it’s a test of her mettle to see if she can stick to the two big rules she’s been handed. Of course, eventually cracks develop in her armor, and the intrepid teen must find her way in a world where all rules are canceled.
Zero wastes little in the telling of its story, and it feels like the beginning of a much larger tale that will eventually unfold at a distant location — which is to say that we’re left with more questions than we started with. But it’s enough of a teaser to pique our curiosity and make us wonder what comes next.
Zero (2019) Directed by David T. Lynch, Keith Lynch. Written by David T. Lynch, Keith Lynch. Starring Bella Ramsey, Nigel O’Neill, James Oliver Wheatley.
8 out of 10 Cans of Krylon