Saturday, September 08, 2018

TIFF ’18: Endzeit – Ever After

During the interwar period, the National Socialists associated Weimar with weakness and decadence. The city of Goethe and Schiller refuses to make the same mistake during the zombie apocalypse. It follows a strict no tolerance policy. At the first sign of infection, it is Auf Wiedersehen. Weimar survivors boast that is why they are one of the only two cities still standing. The other is the more lenient Jena. Two young women will try to journey from Weimar to Jena, but zombies and allegorical figures keep getting in their way throughout Carolina Hellsgård’s Endzeit—Ever After (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

Regardless of their respective policies, the Federal State of Thuringia appears to have been the place the weather the zombie uprising. Nevertheless, Eva and Vivi have some deeply scarring memories of Day Zero. Eva is the tough one, who has a high zombie-body count as an experienced member of the self-defense volunteers. Vivi is so damaged, she might be regressing back to a child-like emotional state. In theory, volunteering for the zombie defense force could be a healthy way to reassert herself, but she simply isn’t ready for that kind of stress.

After her horrible, no good first day, Vivi is ready to run-off, possibly as a more passive way to attempt suicide. Eva also has her reasons to leave in a hurry. Despite a lack of trust and mutual respect, the two women become traveling companions on the road to Jena, like Thelma & Louise, but with zombies instead of the Thunderbird and Brad Pitt.

If you pick up anything from Endzeit’s press campaign, it will be the film’s claim to fame as a modern zombie movie with almost an entirely female cast and women fulfilling every meaningful creative role behind the camera. Good for them for bringing in a highly distinctive film on a presumably limited budget. However, that might not help the cause with hardcore horror and zombie fans. Although there are some shuffling hordes, there is even more allegorical fantasy going on, which produces uneven results.

Frankly, the second to third act hinge gets bogged down with the appearance of “The Gardener,” an Earth Mother archetype with twigs sprouting out of her head, who remorselessly gloats about the rapid demise of humanity. Fine, if that’s her attitude, we’ll stop cutting up the plastic rings from six-packs before throwing them away. On the other hand, some really deep, intriguing stuff is suddenly revealed during the conclusion, which really elevates the film’s tragic gravitas.

One thing pops off the screen loud and clear: Maja Lehrer is absolutely terrific as Eva. She makes her a commanding, rebellious, and vulnerable figure, often all at the same time. Gro Swantje Kohlhof is appropriately withdrawn and childlike as Vivi, but she nicely hints at some character growth over time.

Obviously, Hellsgård is working with a lot of fairy tale themes and motifs, but she mostly makes it work (again, aside from the Gardener business). Viewers who only know zombies from the Walking Dead franchise (which transparently “stands on the shoulders” of Romero’s Living Dead films) will probably bored and confused by it, but fans who really appreciate the zombie tradition will appreciate the ways she stretches the genre. Granted, it does not have the emotional gut-punch of Sabu’s Miss Zombie, but nothing else does either. Recommended for its ambition and the talent that went into it, Endzeit—Ever After screens again tomorrow (9/9), rather ominously Tuesday (9/11), and Friday (9/14), as part of this year’s TIFF.