Five Shells

I watched a movie called CHILDREN OF A DARKER DAWN, a sort of post-apocalyptic LORD OF THE FLIES (according to the DVD cover) which was just gawdawful.  It’s about two sisters whose parents have died in a mysterious apocalypse.  The sisters move through the empty landscape looking for food.  When they stop to rest, one sister reads from a children’s book both sisters have memorized from repetition.  They encounter strangers who threaten to break the sisters’ connection.

The movie was a series of talky scenes, with teenagers speaking like bad middle-aged TV characters, leading to a climax where one sister’s use of violence (a shotgun) shows she has what it takes to live in the ‘new normal.’

I didn’t like it.  As I removed the DVD from the player, with the lights out, I reached for a DVD from the “Stuff You Need To Watch To Justify Your Impulse Purchase” shelf, and put on a movie called FIVE SHELLS.  I enjoyed this one, but it suffers from a somewhat unsatisfying ending.

FIVE SHELLS is about two sisters whose parents have died in a mysterious apocalypse.  The sisters move through the empty landscape looking for food.  When they stop to rest, one sister reads from a children’s book both sisters have memorized from repetition.  They encounter strangers who threaten to break the sisters’ connection.

You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.  You might think I ordered these two movies together when I was in a mood, but I got them about six months apart.  There were two dozen DVDs to chose from on that shelf–ok, more like thirty–and THAT was the one I grabbed.  Believe it…or not.

FIVE SHELLS improves on the human-sized apocalypse story by the use of beautiful New Mexican landscapes.  There are multiple time-lapse shots of the sky, and trees, and hills, showing that time is passing and our girls are growing up, which of course leads to the inevitable villain: The Male member.  The girls are getting along fine until a transparent charmer and his passenger show up.  The guy in the hat (that’s what I kept calling him, but his name is Frank)  and Stan seem to be just what the girls need.  But Matti, played by an actress who could be cast as Chelsea Clinton, carries her pappy’s shotgun with her throughout, and she’s suspicious of this charming stranger.  And she’s right to be!  The first chance he gets, the limpy guy in the hat (Frank) tries to rape the older yet seemingly-younger sister.  Who’d a thunk THAT would happen?  Anyone who’s ever seen a movie.

I couldn’t figure out why this Stan kid was with the evil charmer hat man.  At one point we learn he’s been with him for a YEAR, since he offed Stan’s parents.  You didn’t have a single opportunity to run off in the night, ever?  Really?  How hard did you try, Stan?  You have to start to wonder if Stan kind of liked being ordered around by the guy with the pistol and the hat.  (Yes, he has a pistol, but people who kill people with guns have to sleep, too.)

Much is made of Matti having five shells for her rifle, but considering the amount of real estate the sisters cover, you gotta wonder: A. What happened to all the ammo? and B. What happened to all the people? (We see a couple of dead animals on the road, a money- and sensitivity-saving move that kinda works if you don’t think about it for long) and most important of all, C. Where the hell are all the cars?

I enjoyed going through the usual routines because the two actresses are good and the photography was good, too.  In fact, 5 SHELLS is a much more polished production than CHILDREN OF A DARKER DAWN (you thought I forgot about that, didn’t you?).

But the problems stem from the book Mattie reads to Jocelyn.  It’s The Wizard of Oz, which has inspired more movies and books than any other, including the Bible, unofficially, of course.  The opening credits even include “Inspired by…” Baum’s book.  A misstep, I think, because the intrusions of the Oz-related dreams and imagery, while well-done, don’t add anything.  You could delete all of them, and you’re left with a story of a girl trying to grow up in a harsh world who wishes she were in a nicer one, with her family alive and everything as it was before whatever happened.

I won’t reveal the ending, but it is yet another in a string of annoying endings of cheap apocalyptic movies (the Australian ROVER comes to mind).  I think these directors want to try for significance, or magic realism, or something, when at that point the viewer just wants something satisfying, or even clear.  All of this leads to a climax where one sister’s use of violence (a shotgun) shows she has what it takes to live in the ‘new normal.’  I’m not making that up, either.

So CHILDREN OF A DARKER DAWN was tedious and 5 SHELLS was clever and nice-looking, but neither has much new in post-apocalyptic cinema.  I don’t want to write about movies and books and music I dislike, so this will be a rare negative review that shows up here while I get the machinery going.  If 5 SHELLS comes on late at night, you might eat a sandwich and watch.  If CHILDREN… comes on, you don’t need me to tell you to go to bed.

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