New Releases: Apocalypse Road (2017) Review

Independent films on a shoestring budget are tricky affairs.  The majority of these films use elegant camera tricks to obfuscate miniscule budgets and rely on over the top antics to create a memorable experience for the viewer.  However, there is a small minority of under the radar films that contain thoughtful presentations, endearing performances, and memorable drama.  Brett Bentman's Apocalypse Road is such a film.  While it cannot overcome the constraints of its funding, it uses every available resource to deliver a brooding examination of sisterhood.  

Two sisters are travelling towards the coast, looking for refuge as the world dies around them.  After being separated by grim circumstances, each sister endures a crucible as they struggle to reunite.  It would be easy to compare Bentman's script to Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  Both stories involve family members journeying through a wasteland caused by an unspecified disaster, struggling with moral decisions while contemplating morality.  However, these surface comparisons are just that.  While McCarthy's tome focuses on parenthood and the teaching of morality, Bentman focuses on the bond between sisters and the impact of choices.  As the two heroines' stories diverge, the film is bifurcated, presenting two different narrative sides to Armageddon.  

One of the best attributes is in the mythology, or lack thereof.  The "event" is never fully explained and there appears to be a hierarchy, real or imagined that influences certain decisions made by the characters.  Another surprise is in how Bentman treats the two journeys.  Both feature typical apocalyptic features, however these tropes are slyly subverted with a quiet undercurrent of female empowerment.  The presentation, a blood laced memory conjured by an interview, is another interesting choice.  While it telegraphs certain aspects of the plot, it also remains in line with theme of sisterhood that is the core.  While the expected relationship tropes are thankfully omitted, the lead actresses, Katie Kohler and Ashlyn McEvers, do a remarkable job of both keeping the narrative grounded in plausible reality and surrendering to the surreal elements of the plot whenever the story commands.  

Michael Ray Lewis' cinematography is astonishingly crisp, presenting a plethora of handpicked locations with uncomfortable closeups and sweeping wide shots.  It is immediately evident that Bentman and his crew spent time scouting locations that evoked an apocalyptic feel.  Each abandoned warehouse and empty stadium has a haunted quality that is perfectly captured by Lewis.  The final piece is David Levy's elusive score, bouncing between pulsing nightmarish riffs and soft, introspective notes that match the protagonists’ plight.  

Apocalypse Road doesn't reinvent the genre.  It is light on violence and heavy on characterization, analyzing the components of familial relationships within the confines of a life or death environment.  Its exceptional cinematography, solid direction, and notable lead performances elevates it above other straight to digital fare.  In a time where apocalyptic cinema is a dime a dozen, this is a refreshing departure that takes an intimate approach to the material, without ever devolving into cheap melodrama. 

-- Kyle Jonathan