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The Collapsed (2011)

(15) Running time: 86 minutes

Director: Justin McConnell

Writers: Justin McConnell, Kevin Hutchinson

Starring: John Fantasia, Steve Vieira, Anna Ross, Lise Moule

Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic

The Collapsed is another take on the apocalyptic movie which have become increasingly popular of late, with films like The Road, The Book of Eli and Stakeland all proving very successful. It is obvious The Collapsed, Justin McConnell’s first full length feature after a run of short films and documentaries, will not prove as big as the films I have just mentioned. However, it is fitting that the film can be mentioned in the same league as them in terms of story. In terms of budget, this film was made for a fraction of the cost, and sadly it shows. As they say though, every cloud has a silver lining and the budget restraints at times work in the films favour, and like it or not, you have to admire McConnell’s skills he shows off with such limitations.

The world has basically gone to pot, most of the population is dead from some unknown disaster, and apart from a frightening montage of clips to open the film, we are not given any clue as to what has happened. This is a good thing, and thankfully the mystery surrounding the events are kept tightly under wraps until the best possible point to reveal them (sort of). We join Scott Weaver (Fantasia) and his family: wife Emily (Moule), daughter Rebecca (Ross) and Son Aaron (Vieira) as they try to make the best of a bad situation. We get to know them pretty well, and the characterisation is well written, down to the point of Rebecca deciding it is now OK to swear in front of her Mother: it is a small but valid point that if you have ended up in such a situation, trivial things really don’t matter. The family decide to get out of the city and away from danger, with a plan to steal a car and drive into the countryside to their old family home in Dover’s Bend. They hope to find their other son there too…

An ‘incident’ after stopping for gas and supplies ends up with the family trekking through the woods on foot, and a week and a halves hike leads to all sorts of problems. Family bonds are tested, the Father does whatever it takes to protect his family and keep them away from any contact with other people, and it would appear they are being hunted. Not only do there appear to be men with shotguns, but also a strange presence is following them through the woods and the countryside, a presence we can’t see but know is there. The tension is cranked up to brutal and brilliant levels by a score which, for the most part, really works. Trumpets and double bass’s are used to create a wonderful sense of dread and menace, and the music follows the reactions of its characters very closely. However, as good as the music is, there are times when it becomes too much, too overpowering, and a recurring tune plays over and over which will eventually give you a headache. This is a real shame because there is some real skill on offer here.

McConnell’s previous work included a few documentaries, and those skills he learnt he has brought here with some gorgeous and well crafted shots of the woods, the countryside, the sky and also nature behaving as nature does. Shots of bee’s and spiders are added into the film, as are shots of TV aerials and bugs flying to give a real sense of realism. This masterful camerawork gives the film a real edge too, a real sense of things gone wrong. McConnell also has skill when shooting his scenes, with the camera watching from a distance hidden in the trees, or following its characters as if sneaking behind them. Close ups, and bizarre angles are used for dramatic effect, and care is taken to get the very best out of his shots. There is skill here, real skill, and after a few more feature length films, McConnell will certainly become a name to remember.

The Collapsed mainly suffers from some bad pacing, and often questionable acting. Fantasia does a terrific job as the Father, and holds the film together well, but his supporting cast are not quite as good. Considering the budget and the time frame in which the film was made, this can be excused, although I feel the acting and pace might test the patience of the more casual horror fan. The pacing does work, but there are far too many awkward moments where nothing really happens, or the story is not moving forward enough. There are also issues with the writing, like a daft moment where the daughter goes off to shave her legs in the middle of the woods while being hunted, or when the Father decides it’s best to head back to the gas station at a time when the strange presence is all around them and leave his family. It is strange how these sorts of silly plot ideas came about, considering the film is usually written adequately. A Father and Son chat will bring on emotions not usually found in horror, while some of the chat between family members is close to spot on.

As things do spiral out of control, the ending really takes things up a notch. The build up is slow, often intense and very claustrophobic, and The Collapsed is certainly not to everyone’s taste, but this is an interesting take on the apocalyptic horror, and the final pay off is well worth the wait. It is as shocking as it is brutal, and will leave a lasting impression with a final image which will prove hard to clear from your head. The Collapsed is a powerful, and more often than not, well made film with moments of brilliance. The director expertly designs and crafts his story, and while he still has a lot to learn, this is an impressive start. This is a horror for the more arty crowd of the genre, and one that should give those with plenty of patience a sinister, and chilling experience. This film is far from perfect, but its heart is in the right place and it will most certainly leave its mark.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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