Railway Children (2012)
Written and directed by Jason Figgis
In Dublin, Ireland, Evie and her younger sister Fran are coping with life without their parents since a deadly virus wiped out the entire adult human race with children and teenagers strangely immune. Squatting in empty, derelict houses and gathering food, the two are doing anything they can to survive. Reading The Railway Children, a book by Edith Nesbit which their parents used to read to them, comforts them at this difficult time and makes the days pass quicker. Whilst sleeping in an abandoned house, a noise awakens Evie and she investigates to find a group of youngsters beating up a teenage girl named Alice. After the group leave, Evie invites Alice to tag along with them. Unfortunately for them, the group return and befriend the three girls only to steal their belongings and food supply whilst they sleep. But for Evie and Fran, this is only the beginning of the ever-growing list of difficult problems they must face.
Shot entirely in Goatstown, Jason Figgis worked with over 40 children from the Habemus Performing Arts School in his feature length shocker, Railway Children. Whilst they may be children and young adults, nothing about their performance was childish as each and every actor in the film gave a convincing performance of youngsters surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. If you’re looking for action or big set pieces, Railway Children is not for you. Instead, Jason has taken the route of exploring the fragile minds of these kids and how they can be manipulated through fear when faced with little hope of salvation. These young people have lost their protectors, their nurturers, their guiding light and left to their own devices they turn to aggression out of fear. Many of the kids witnessed their parents psychotic mental breakdown and some even had to defend themselves from their crazed parents. Haunted by these terrifying memories, the children must adapt in order to survive this ordeal.
Railway Children reminded me a lot of a New Zealand series aired in the 90’s called The Tribe, which featured kids surviving in a post-apocalyptic world after all the adult population was wiped out by a deadly virus. However, The Tribe is on a much grander scale than Railway Children, with the kids exploring their environment in contrast to Railway Children which is pretty much a verbally focussed piece of film. Nevertheless, Railway Children explores the nature and mental balance of the orphaned kids in such a way that you are questioned upon how you would react if faced with the end of the world as you knew it. Would you join a gang and terrorise others, would you hide in fear or would you strive to survive in the best way you could? Director Jason Figgis explores these issues with the different sets of kids Evie and Fran encounter. Some are coping better than others and are exploiting the weak for their own gains. Some kids cannot cope with the loss and that sadness and fear manifests itself in different ways, most of which push themselves further apart from the group. These scenes are hard to watch at times and as we are introduced to flashbacks of the suffering their parents went through and the torture the kid endured, you start to get a grip on what it must be like in their position. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and some will do anything to survive.
I must applaud the lead cast on their remarkable roles. Catherine Wrigglesworth and Emily Forster are tremendous as the sisters Evie and Fran. Emily is especially impressive as the hot-headed, opinionated younger sister as Catherine calms and comforts her as the level-headed, wise, elder sibling. The film is pretty much put on their shoulders as they encounter different kids along their journey of survival. It doesn’t always turn out well for them and the way in which they retain their cool in an intimidating environments shows how well Evie and her sister can cope and survive under these terrible circumstances.
Jason Figgis has a subtle yet powerful score that compliments the film. It’s bold at times, much like the characters, but blends into the background as if it becomes one with the bleak surroundings. The cinematography captivates and throws you into this desolate world for its running time of 105 minutes. The ravaged, dismal setting infects the surviving child population, turning them into shells of their former selves. Whilst watching you’ll be left with a feeling of despair, but afterwards you’ll leave with an appreciation of your current life.