A funny thing happened while I was watching the DVD of Justin McConnell's The Collapsed, a post-apocalypse thriller out on video this Tuesday from Anchor Bay entertainment. The noise outside my apartment became so loud that I was forced to turn on the DVD's English subtitle track just to understand what was being said. During the course of the film, a family of four is wandering through the woods of an unnamed state, when they are beset, in a very abstract way, by threatening noises and whispers. Clearly they are being haunted by a vague supernatural presence. And while the mere sight of panicked white people with guns whipping their heads about searching for the source of bizarre demonic noises is a plain one – it's something that I feel like I've seen in horror movies before – with the subtitle track playing, these moments were granted a bizarre poetry. The subtitles did not merely read “spooky noises” or “quiet disembodied whispers,” but bothered to give long, explicit descriptions. A few gems: “The Presence floats over her head. It is very close now.” “The whispers are now joined by a deep demonic noise. It surrounds him.” “The Presence creeps in from all sides.” I almost expected the subtitles to start dictating more and more of the story. “He thinks that he is alone, but he isn't” would have been good. Or, better yet “Okay, so this is the scariest part of the movie, because the Demonic Presence is driving our heroes mad. They don't know it yet, but it's totally gonna happen.”
Aside from this, The Collapsed has only a few appealing elements that make it somewhat watchable, if not necessarily transcendent of the post-apocalypse genre. For one, we never learn what exactly caused the world to end, hence driving survivors into hunter/gatherer roles. We see the burned-out cars, and corpses lying in the otherwise vacant streets, but there is no mention of nuclear bombs, zombies, or any other such thing. The world is at an end, and that's that. I did like this conceit, although such an idea was exploited to much greater effect in Michael Haneke's woefully underseen 2003 thriller Time of the Wolf. For another, the film boldly kills off several of its main characters, and, to the director's credit, I didn't predict any of these deaths coming. There's also a really creepy dream sequence about halfway through wherein a young girl breaks her own neck at the dinner table. That part creeped me out.
Otherwise, The Collapsed is a pretty boilerplate survival film that is either leisurely paced or insufferably padded, depending on your point of view. Our family of four – dad (John Fantasia, sporting a Lambert-ian accent of indeterminate origin), mom (Lise Moule), adult son (Steve Vieira), and teenage daughter (Anna Ross), during the aforementioned worldwide crisis, find themselves trekking through the woods, stopping at nearby gas stations for supplies, and desperately trying to make it to “Daniel's place” to be safe. I forgot who Daniel was. I think it was a relative of theirs. They run into a few dangerous hillbillies (who may be cannibals, natch), and are often beset by the poetic Presence that, in the actual film, only plays as a spooky atmospheric addition, but in the subtitles behaves like a fifth character. I don't want to give anything away, but only one of the four will end up surviving, and matching wits with a cabin of would-be cannibals. There's some talk of “infection,” although nothing is made explicit.
Then there's a twist ending, and, well, all is not what it seems, etc. etc. etc.
Since low-budget horror movies are now all shot on lightweight digital cameras, most of the straight-to-video genre movies are now marked by a smoky, moody cloudiness, and a natural, hand-held photography. The technique is, I feel, just on the cusp of feeling immediate and natural, and is about to outstay its welcome. A note to low-budget filmmakers; however “natural” and “immediate” you'd like your film to be, the handheld aesthetic is wearing thin. Get a tripod. Compose your shots. Trust me, they'll look more professional.
The DVD has a commentary track the writer/director and the co-producer which is the usual “Tales from the Set”sort of track we've become accustomed to. There is also a commentary with the lead actor, the usual trailers, and an unusual music video. There is a making-of documentary with the DVD, but you have to watch it online by scanning a barcode on the disc itself. Innovative.