Hell Netflix | YouTube DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Tim Fehlbaum
Starring Hannah Herzsprung, Stipe Erceg, Angela Winkler, Lars Eidinger, Lisa Vicari
Originally Released: September 22, 2011
I’m a sucker for any post-apocalyptic film, and if you are a fan of this style of film, then you will find some value in the German/Swiss film, Hell. Directed by Tim Fehlbaum, the movie follows the quest of four young survivors searching for precious water in a world blemished by harsh climate conditions. If this sounds like countless other apocalyptic films, then don’t be shocked, because that’s exactly what it is.
Established sometime in the future, climate change has been forced into a very real accelerated global warming, by unpredicted freak solar flares. Germany’s green landscapes are becoming wasted by the rising heat of the day, under a different kind of sun that glares with harshness. The brightness of the lighting will be a blinding experience to many, even Stevie Wonder.
Combined by convenience more than anything else, two sisters named Marie (Hannah Herzsprung) and Leonie (Lisa Vicari) have joined with self-centered Phillip (Lars Eidinger) to make their way to mountain country in pursuit of water and fuel. Along the way, they meet Tom (Stipe Erceg), a cunning survivor, in a conflict that results in him joining the band of three on their journey.
As they advance the mountain country through rural areas, the group comes under assault by strangers who have succumbed to cannibalism. Young Leonie is captured, and a botched rescue attempt forces Marie to take on a more strong-minded focus to try a second attempt at rescuing her sister. On top of that, she’s having her period at the time as well (yes, she is, it’s in the movie), so goddammit give her a break because she’s had a shit of a day. Oh well, at least she found some chocolate. No, I’m not kidding about that.
As a post-apocalyptic fairytale, the plot fares reasonably. But while the German setting provides a unique locale for this style of story, there are many plot elements that mirror and take influence from other stories. Raw Meat (aka Death Line) was one movie that came to mind, as well as The Descent, The Hills Have Eyes, in the horror area; and just about every post-apocalyptic film out there including but not limited to The Book of Eli and The Road. While these components gel quite well in the tale, they come across less as homage, and more like stitching together already established ideas.
In the pursuit for survival after Armageddon, our heroes are tormented by antagonists who turn out to be cannibals. Our main protagonist, Marie, must journey through an ordeal of trauma and violence, to rise above the complications and emerge a new person. These two elements are neither new nor unique, and they have been plot devices that have been used countless times in these forms of movies and stories before.
More than a few logic gaps arise along the way that complicates the story. One example: How are the protagonists able to charge the batteries for the walkie-talkies? There’s also a scene where they come across the bad guys’ accumulation of “hunting tools” in a railway tunnel – unlocked and open… and they just walk on by without taking any weapon-like resources! It may not seem like a big deal, but for many viewers, these oversights on logic matters will take them out of the viewing experience – and it impacts the effectiveness of the story telling, in a bad way.
Several symbolic plot elements are also used somewhat staggeringly. The song "99 Luftballoons" appears very early on in the movie, and is clearly a symbolic gesture of hope – especially considering the original civil implications of the song itself. The element is abandoned quickly though, and is never returned to again, which seems like an unfortunate lost opportunity to me.
Regardless of my criticism of the plot, the performances in the film help bridge gaps over the script’s glaring flaws. Stipe Erceg plays the role of the cunning warrior and protector of our main characters, and his feats and wisdom are (intelligently) used sparingly. His gaunt appearance reminds me of Christian Bale in The Machinist, with a hardened glare intense enough to pierce your soul. His performance makes Hell worth watching alone, especially with his "matter-of-fact" tone that helps establish the setting to the audience as "the new reality".
Similarly, lead actress Hannah Herzsprung is delightful in her role, and does a commendable job in showing the convincing transition of her character’s development. Her eyes are likewise as intense, often revealing emotion and thoughts to the viewer – and her mannerisms fit perfectly with the struggle the character faces.
Correspondingly of highlight is young Lisa Vicari, who is a delight as young Leonie. European movie fans will have much to look forward to with this young actress; but she has limited appearances in this film. The movie would have benefited momentously from more of her presence on-screen, which seems like yet another unfortunate missed opportunity on the part of the director and writers.
There is one disparagement I just cannot omit, and it is not towards that of the filmmakers, but to the staff of Netflix, from whom I streamed this film. Netflix have characterized the film as Sci-Fi Horror. The apocalypse elements certainly make this a Sci-Fi story, but that’s where it stops. There really is no Horror in this movie. Aside from the overused cannibal idea, there are no major frights, and there is very little gore. Blood spilling is presented to a degree, though more often than not, it is implied more than anything else. As such, I found this to be a major disappointment, because the movie has very little of the aspects we horror fans look for over and above a good story.
Back to the film-making side of things, costume design and make-up is wholly a “stock” item from the post-apocalyptic style – lots of grungy dirty humans wearing raggedy hand-me-down clothes. But what really makes the imagery of the characters pop out most is the added amalgamation of stark and high levels of lighting to effectively convey the changing landscape and climate of the world. There’s a weird dichotomy of harsh desert style sunlight, amidst the earthy browns of a forest area – and merged with the apoc-garb, makes for an intense visual appeal.
The score is very percussion heavy, and instead of developing a unique feel and aura, the score tends to rip off elements from Hans Zimmer’s work on The Dark Knight Trilogy, as well as touches from David Julyan’s handiwork on The Descent. While the percussive soundscapes sound orchestral in some places and industrial in others, and while it does seem to suit the post-apocalyptic landscape, the mimicking of already well-known scores and soundtracks is more of diminution to the story than it is of benefit.
If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, then you will find some appeal in Hell. Horror fans should avoid this one though, for it is incorrectly characterized as such in some services. Consider this one more of a Sci-Fi Thriller if anything else.
Fundamentally, this has been done before, in many examples that you have most likely seen before. In spite of its glaring faults, there is some enjoyment value in Hell, so my suggestion would be to go ahead and add this one to your queue to check out at some stage, but don’t go racing to this one immediately.