Another day, another apocalypse; this time in the form of Merrick; a boxing champion who had his career curtailed by one of those annoying diseases that wipes everything out for plot purposes. It’s written, directed, and produced by newcomer Benjamin Diouris, and the trailer makes it look low-budget. well presented, and a bit of a downer. Just the thing for a quiet summer’s viewing.
Things start well with the main character Merrick (Mickaël Etrillard) scavenging around on his bike through the kind of junk heap you’d expect to find 10 years after everything has just done to shit. Rather than destroyed, everything looks deserted and abandoned, which is a nice visual touch and plays well with the scenery of rural France. What happened to the rest of the world? Buggered if we know, everything’s collapsed so it’s not like we can flick on the news to find out.
Elsewhere, Esther (Maria Columb) does a legger from an internment camp and runs through some different but equally impressive countryside. We can assume it’s because it’s not a nice place to be, as these things never, but that’s about it. The actual nature of the disease, the risks caused by Esther’s actions, or even how such a large facility is maintained when apparently every other facet of society has fallen isn’t really discussed. The key here is that she’s running away and that the scenery is lovely.
There is a side-plot involving the bulk of rest of the films very minimal, and mostly talented, cast. However, it doesn’t go anywhere or add that much to the meat of the story. On the one hand, it’s quite pleasant to watch them all being miserable in a fashionable manner and it means that act 3 isn’t fuelled by Deus Ex Machina. On the other hand, Chekov would have looked at it and asked if it was strictly all necessary as it slows down Esther and Merrick meeting up.
When the inevitable does happen and the two main-characters paths cross, it’s again quite good. There is some comedy of errors, some polite misunderstanding, and a growing sense that we’re supposed to have a lot of empathy for Merrick. This is conveyed by him moping around and not saying much of anything. Think Jason Momoa’s cousin who’s really into Black Veil Brides and whey powder milkshakes.
The non-interaction between the two is, unfortunately, at the core of where this all just gets a bit dull and frustrating. There is, as we get to witness through a series of flashbacks and interlinked present day visuals, an interesting and deeply human story trying to be told here. Unfortunately, no one’s saying anything to anyone so we get a lot of slow, beautiful visuals of people not talking that fails to fill in the gaps. We don’t need everything spelled out for us, but there are so many opportunities for meaningful interaction that the audience feels it’s intruding on a private pity party.
Obviously, some of this is down to the fine traditions of French cinema, and it’s good to see a director being bold with their approach. But Malevil and Tomorrow’s Children managed to be dour, depressing, and still engaging films so there is no reason it couldn’t be so here. If nothing else a touch more interaction and a bit less obfuscation could have had the final scene hit you with a sense of poignancy, rather the urge to slap people for being self-absorbed dicks.
Mostly it comes across as an episode of La Zone De Crépuscule that got stretched out by an hour through tourist-board quality camera work and lots of gaps in the script. It flops into the Trash, with great aplomb, because it can’t be arsed to do anything other than look cool and shrug a lot. This is deeply annoying, as a tighter edit and some nod towards real human interaction could have made is amazing. Still; it’s a first film so I look forward to seeing what it’s creator does next.
NB: some sites have this released in 2021, which is it’s international release date. We go by original release date, hence it’s not a commentary about the Coronavirus Pandemic. Which would have possibly made it a good watch.