Also known as ESC, Darwin, and Confinement, which are a fine collection of highly evocative titles, the trailer I saw for this appeared to be an attempt to cash in on Covid-19 fears, even though it was made a solid 6 years before The Pandemic kicked off. Which is a shame, as it’s far better than the kooky conspirasphere fable it was trying to pass itself off as. Then again, it’s a film that’s in a curious little world of its own so it’s not too surprising that they tried everything they could to market it.
The opening act of the film is Darwin (Nick Krause) living in his 10-foot-by-10-foot one-person post-apocalyptic bunker, like his own personal Luton. That living consists of him sitting in a fancy chair, either playing video games, socialising or remotely controlling a digger; both controlled through his keyboard trousers. Think “The Matrix” crossed with a 15-year-old’s natural habits of staying in their room. He’s been in there for a decade or so, and I really don’t want to know where the food comes from.
Once it’s established that his life is rather rotten, he gets thrown out of his techno-womb because no one ever bothered to check if the damn thing was lightning proof. Delighted to find out that the outside world isn’t as lethal as had been made out, he then wonders around the Canadian landscape in a manner that partly establishes the desolation after The War and mostly just makes you go “wow, that’s some lovely landscape”. He also meets a hover-drone, which is a bit of a dick to him.
Eventually, he meets some humans, most notably Lillian Bale (Molly Parker) and her daughter Dara (Juliette Gosselin). They live off The Grid and help him become human again and, in one of the many nice touches found throughout the film, how to speak again after being in isolation for so long. They also teach him how to live a post-crash life, in what is the most wonderful cross between The Waltons and Mad Max.
Whilst the rest of the story is thin of action, it’s big on age-appropriate emotions. It’s very much trying to be a Young Adult sci-fi movie, but it manages to be more cerebral than that and have some spectacular world-building. It also has one of the best twist-ending concepts since THX 1138 and a general low-beat tone to it that keeps it just on the right side of realism. So, unfortunately, not enough action to sell it to the teens and not enough terror to flog it to the adults. Molly Parker’s sublime performance is highly relatable to parents, but you can’t put “the last shot of her makes the movie!” as the tagline.
The rest of the cast do reasonable performances, constrained mostly by the limited emotional ranges they are allowed to occupy. Darwin is socially developmentally stunted, and then gets better at it, and Juliette is a pleasant girl that’s just realised boys are interesting. Unfortunately, they are in a PG-rated film, so can’t act like kids really would in that situation (same emotions and reactions, just with more badly applied swearing).
It all works though, and I really can’t say enough about the ending (and, paradoxically won’t, because I don’t want to spoil it). It gets on with telling its modest story in a serviceable way, avoiding anything flashy and letting the ideas do the work whilst the characters get on with their lives. It’s a low-key, surprisingly engaging, Treasure. It’s never going to be a huge hit, but maybe it doesn’t need to be. Not everything has to be big in the apocalypse, even if the trailer says otherwise.