Philip Koch was inspired to create Tribes of Europa (2021-) by the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016. I see no evidence that the European Union is at risk from the United Kingdom’s decision. Equally it’s not hard to imagine a post-apocalyptic future in which fudal tribes fight over scares resources. In this world an unknown cataclysm has flung the world back into the dark ages. As is usual in these things some vestiges of the old world still exist. There are a few cars and some military trucks, the odd electric light, electronic key cards, recorded television programmes, high velocity weapons, forges able to manufacture razor sharp blades, and electricity enough to play trance music. Actually this apocalypse is less like the dark ages and more like the late seventies. That time before computers, mobile phones, or the internet. I suppose for some, life without social media is an apocalypse. The plot kicks off when the plane of a technologically capable tribe, the Atlantians, crashes near the village of the peaceful Origine tribe. Desperate to get control the Atlantian’s technology, an innocuous looking cube, the larger more aggressive Crows attack the Origine camp, killing or capturing most of the tribe. The Crows look like gothic cyberpunks, if the punks appropriated the look of some indigenous North American clan. Dressed in black, with topknots, and replicant eye makeup, they wouldn’t be out of place in the wastelands of Mad Max. From this encounter three siblings from the Origines tribe are forced to confront the terrors of this new world order. They’re innocents in a world of duplicitous aggression, destined to become idealists corrupted by necessity. Overall I like the idea but the execution feels over designed, and in many ways the plot’s too narrow. They tug at Europe’s troubled history, without really explaining the collapse of Europe, or the formation of the tribes. They’re complex cultures that would’ve taken centuries to define themselves in these specific terms. Not the fifty or so years since the collapse of information technology. Perhaps that’s why the six episodes leaves you wanting more, but it’s probably because the whole thing is two acts, and four episodes short. Hopefully series two will fill out the plot, and provide answers where there are now gaping holes.
A young couple, Nanna Blondell and Anastasios Soulis, head for the wilds of Sweden hoping to rekindle the romance in their troubled relationship. As they lay together under the flickering green of the northern lights, Blondell’s Nadja reveals she’s pregnant. This happy news has hardly escaped her lips when a red dot, the laser sight from a rifle, appears on the side of the tent. When a shot is fired they’re sent fleeing into the wilderness, and a desperate fight for their lives. Alain Darborg does a great job directing a tight script from first time writer Per Dickson. He keeps the action flowing and the turns twisting. Heaping one revelation on another until the bitter end. You know that taste you get when you chew a pill? It’s that kind of bitter. With an aftertaste. No one escapes this film unscathed.
This plays out in the same universe as the brilliantly unrelenting Train to Busan (2016). Anyone infected with a mysterious virus dies, comes back to life, and then charges teeth first at the living. If the original film chronicled the spread of the virus across South Korea, this picks over the bones of a country abandoned to the hordes of bloodthirsty undead. We follow a small crew, living as refugees in Hong Kong, as they are given the chance to make some fast cash. All they have to do is go back to South Korea and retrieve a truckload of money. Once in-country they quickly find the truck, but their good fortune doesn’t last. While being chased by a horde of zombies they’re attacked by a small army of hardened survivors, capturing the truck because they think it’s full of food. Separated from the truck, and more importantly the satellite phone essential to arranging a pickup, our hero is saved by a couple of young girls, badass sisters, junior destroyers, who’ve been surviving, thriving, in this crazy new world. If the first act is inspired by Escape from New York (1981), the second is like having the last three Mad Max (1981-2015) films in one place. It’s a fun ride with a nice look. The players sometimes feel histrionic, but I think that’s an idiosyncrasy to Korean cinema. If zombie films are your thing, it’ll fit nicely into an evening’s entertainment.
Let’s call this what it is, a startling piece of cinema from writer and director Rose Glass, a name so good it feels made up. Quips aside she is definitely someone I will be looking out for in the future. Morfydd Clark is Maud, a palliative care nurse with the piety of a saint, caring for the terminal ill Amanda, played unflinchingly by Jennifer Ehle. It’s a film of mood and presence and impending doom. Expertly building tension, stretching Maud’s fragile state of mind, until it vibrates like the thickest string of a bass guitar. To tell you more is to give away a truly creepy third act, that knows enough not to over strum that string, and let that note play. A great piece of British cinema that uses our dourness to dramatic effect. Gives me chills thinking about it.
I looked at the pedigree of this film with quite optimism. Written by Chris Sparling, the talent behind the claustrophobic Ryan Reynolds thriller Buried (2010). Then you see it’s directed by the action talent Ric Roman Waugh, the guy who filled the screen with the action packed Angel Has Fallen (2019). You’d expect Greenland (2020) to distill this mix of grain and water into moonshine. Instead we get wheat flavoured pop. There’s no rocket fuel getting you drunk, only a steady stream of sugar water that wets your whistle, but doesn’t quench the thirst. That sounds bad. It’s not. It’s hits the beats in all the right places, but what it should be doing is playing off key sometime, enough to counter the beating drum we’re marching to. There are interesting moments in there, but they get lost in things like media exposition, a trope that should be excised from movie lexicon; and a fanciful third act that glosses over too much to be convincing.