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Hal MacDermot [Film Festival 04.26.09] post apocalyptic movie review

Year: 2008
Directors: Damon O'Steen
Writers: Gary Weeks
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: cyberhal
Rating: 4.8 out of 10

[Coverage from the Newport Beach Film Festival]

We’ve been following the progress of the post apocalyptic action movie Deadland for a while now, so I was well chuffed to meet the writer, Gary Weeks, a few minutes before the movie started. He was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me to discuss his latest flick.

Cyberhal: what was the inspiration for your movie?

Gary Weeks: I wondered what the world would be like if you took away our access to cell phones and the internet? What would happen if we left all that stuff behind, and everything else that goes with it? What would we need to survive? How would we live? What would we desire? I’m a romantic, so I think that for the main character in my story (Sean) the answer is love. It’s about him trying to find his wife, that’s what he would desire most of all.

Cyberhal: Tell me about the locations.

Gary Weeks: We shot Deadland in Georgia and I already knew most of the locations I wanted. I grew up there as a kid, I spent my childhood there. We were really lucky. We found a hunters’ lodge that we could use as a soldiers’ camp and also a farm we turned into a women’s detention centre.

The film was about to start, and the interview came to an end.

I’m always a bit nervous about reviewing a movie after having just met the writer, but here goes. The premise of the movie is instantly attractive to all Quiet Earth fans. A nuclear attack has destroyed America as we know it and the few survivors have all contracted a deadly plague. If they don’t take regular medication, they start to rot and die. The country is now divided into 13 provinces, and is policed by brutal military squads known as Province Officers (POs). Across this landscape of devastation, Sean (Gary Weeks) struggles to find his long lost wife Katie (the gorgeous Emily-Grace Murray). So far, so cool.

Deadland has some amazing story elements, strong performances and good production values for a low budget movie, but I have to say, the whole thing really didn’t hang together for me. I began to lose track of why the characters were running from point A to point B in the woods, and they do that quite a bit. The meanderings of the plot caused the pace falter and stumble. Despite the potential powerful physical and/or psychological conflict, the movie never really “goes there.” Great premise, script needs tightening.

The story kicks off with Sean by the side of the road, trying to call his wife on the cell phone. No joy. He enters a gas station to borrow their phone, and finds the guy behind the counter watching the mayhem engulfing L.A. as war approaches. Suddenly, the screen goes dead, the two men go outside and up in the sky…the vapor trails of missiles and the mushroom cloud of nuclear death. Cut to the post apocalypse world 5 years later, and a forest in Georgia. Sean finds a bag dropped by a PO that contains a coded letter with his wife’s name in it. The problem is that he needs to decode the letter to find her. Most of the movie takes place in the forest, and that helps define the cool look of the movie, a kind of washed out green.

Sean’s quest introduces him to various weird characters, including the snapped but fun Jax (Brian Tee), who ends up accompanying him. Jax is a bag of facial twitches and he’s great. Jax takes him to Shiv, who talks to himself a lot and lives in a hut in the forest and decodes things, like Sean’s letter. Shiv was too random/unthreatening for me, and luckily for him the murderous P.O.s somehow never discover him. Sean learns that this wife may hold the secret to curing the plague with her blood, and that she’s currently being held, with other pure-blood women, in a prison camp. The letter was in fact an order from the president of the United Provinces, ordering that the women be bought to the “safe area” to help develop a cure to save the nation. Sean and Jax set off to find her, often pursued and occasionally captured by surprisingly ineffectual paramilitary PO types. There’s also subplot about some kind of messiah who may or may not just be a guy in a bullet proof vest, and an Underground resistance who do almost nothing but talk until the finale.

It bothered me that so many scenes holding the promise of great conflict were squandered. A woman gets her tongue cut out but the event gets played down, not up. The soldiers shoot at Sean and Jax from point blank range and they usually miss. Most of the women in the prison camp looked rather chubby to me, and I just wonder if there’s hardly any food left, how they managed to pile on the lard? Where’s the pain? Where’s the suffering? On the up side, I think the crew did a good production job on a limited budget, and Gary Weeks and Emily Murray turned in strong performances. I want to see these guys in their next movies.

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agentorange (11 years ago) Reply

Letting characters wander the wilderness aimlessly is something that kills many PA films. Even The Vanguard, a film that I thought was well done, succumbed to this in parts.

I'm still looking forward to seeing Deadland though. Been waiting so long and all...

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