In most horror films that deal with the apocalypse, the “end of days” is just a stark and effective setting for zombie (or other monster) attacks, but once in a while you come across a film that is actually fascinated by the horribly sobering concept of… the end of civilization. A few years ago there was a very intriguing thriller called Carriers, which focused on the death throes of humanity, and rather well, and last year we got an overwrought but certainly interesting film called The Divide. That one focused more on how survivors will resort to the basest acts imaginable, and it got too ugly and silly for its own good.
Now comes a low-budget movie that seems to combine the attitudes found within Carriers and The Divide: that when the chips are down, when there’s no reason to go on, humans are still programmed to survive, and many of us are still able to maintain a small nugget of decency, even in the nastiest of apocalyptic situations. Not all of us, of course, and that’s where the drama kicks in...
Slightly familiar, consistently downbeat, but somehow pretty intriguing nonethless, Peter Engert’s Remnants is not exactly a “fun” horror film, but that’s one of the best things about our preferred genre: not all horror stories are meant to be fun. Some, like this one, hope to shine a light on the best and (of course) the worst that humanity can dole out -- and the horror springs from the fact that the filmmakers are rather dry and matter-of-fact about it. Up until a third act that delivers some (rather effective) fight scenes, Remnants is a full bore horror drama that wants to get under your skin more than jolt you out of it.
Remnants is about nine people, most complete strangers, who hole up in the cellar of a farmhouse after a nuclear attack has demolished pretty much everything. The set-up, which boasts some unexpectedly (darkly) beautiful cinematography and a few acting performances that are legitimately effective, gives way to a rather grim and downbeat second act, and it’s there that screenwriter Christian McDonald delves into the dread and darkness that lives deep within each character. Perhaps a bit too talky for the hardcore horror crowds, the first hour of Remnants still boasts some fascinating food for thought about the inherent selfishness of man; the question of why an animal still strives to survive in a dead world; and how “humanity” isn’t truly dead until all of the humans are.
This sort of “dead serious and realistic” horror could turn into a bunch of self-satirizing whining if the filmmakers aren’t careful, and it certainly helps that Remnants offers a very strong lead performance. The central character is a young doctor named Hunter and C.J. Thomason does a frankly excellent job; we sense his misery and his desperation, but his consistent sense of decency gives Remnants a small ray of hope that’s worth focusing on. The lovely Monica Keena also provides strong work, and it’s cool to note that Edward Furlong -- here playing an angry redneck -- delivers some of his best acting in years. At one moment a sleazebag, the next a grown child worthy of sympathy, Furlong adds extra dimensions to a potentially one-dimensional “asshole” character.
Remnants offers no zombies, nothing supernatural, and little else that fits into the realm of “escapist” horror cinema, but it is a dark, brutal, gory, and fascinating little rumination on how long humans will actually last, if left entirely to their own devices. And it isn’t pretty.