NOW ON VOD! Far too much of Tales from the Apocalypse comes across as derivative. While the film promises a glimpse into another world, too often, what is beheld lacks dynamism. This anthology’s varied perspectives are well constructed, but the characters are imprisoned in largely generic situations. All of which makes the proceedings akin to almost any fiction offering of reasonable quality: it’s well-made enough to be enjoyable but utterly procedural and in no way memorable.
This sci-fi anthology contains a quintet of fables, each telling a story of survival upon the same ruined Earth. These segments range from the well-known to the fanciful. One tale details the struggles of the last survivor on a doomed space pod orbiting a black hole. Another follows the exploits of a humanoid A.I. explicitly designed to traverse the 4th dimension. Moreover, all four stories feature unique directors — Damon Duncan, William Hellmuth, Susie Jones, and Lin Sun — and writers — Susie Jones, Lin Sun, J. Scott Worthington, and Jiao Xu.
Considering the wide breadth of the anthology’s creative direction, the greatest strength of Tales from the Apocalypse is how uniformly realistic the presentation is. The costumes, sets, and dabbles of computer-generated imagery across all four narratives make every individual world feel fully realized. Furthermore, the core conceit of each story is remarkable enough to hook the viewer from the very beginning. All of these aspects establish a strong foundation for the film.
“…contains a quintet of fables, each telling a story of survival upon the same doomed Earth.”
Unfortunately, the greatest problem that obscures the strengths is how little is built upon that narrative foundation. Every tale exists as a sandbox of primordial ideas, a peephole offering a glimpse of a new world, but only ever a glimpse. The characters themselves rapidly fall into a series of routine tropes that do nothing to expand the post-apocalyptic universe. Furthermore, no character’s personal arcs are properly tailored to the span of time allotted to them. Often their narratives end abruptly and without satisfying closure. These issues render the whole enterprise, unfortunately, flat.
Throughout the 84-minute runtime, an essential element proved consistently absent: narrative boldness. A perfect comparison for such a trait comes from another oddly similar collection, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. Although a gothic horror anthology that was critically panned upon its release, it was foremost bold in its storytelling. It took similarly well-known ideas and amplified them to an extreme but unforgettable degree. Its unrepentant style — even at its worst — speaks to a courage desperately needed by Tales from the Apocalypse. Had it been even a little daring, every story could have been spellbinding.
Thus, while Tales of the Apocalypse is a competently made anthology that features a series of rich worlds, its lack of equally rich characterization proves a fatal shortcoming. As a singular idea, it is overly concerned with passing cinematic muster rather than being interesting to view. For a genre as full of imaginative potential as science fiction, having four stories that are just good enough may be the cruelest conceivable result.
"…full of imaginative potential as science fiction..."