DVD Review: Hell

The apocalypse is pretty serious stuff, folks. Between hunting for water, defending yourself against rapist cannibals and trying your best to look presentable when showers and shampoo are a thing of the past, there are few chances to crack a smile once God has announced last call on the planet Earth. Hell, a 2011 German film from director Tim Fehlbaum, is the latest in a string of very grim tales of post-apocalyptic survival. A washed out, dusty tour of the gloom and doom that is eventually awaiting humanity, Hell is a decent, if repetitive, exercise in somber anti-escapism.

In the near future, the sun has cranked up the juice and scorched Earth, leaving the world a pretty inhospitable place. Livestock is essentially non-existent and water is a hotly sought-after commodity. A group of survivors are in search of hope – driving toward the mountains where they pray they will find water and a refuge from a sun that will bake you to a crisp if you hang outside too long.

It is a pretty safe bet that Fehlbaum, along with co-writers Oliver Kahl and Thomas Wöbke rented one or two post-apocalyptic movies when plotting their film. Hell has a structure that is more than slightly familiar with that of The Road, John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s tale of father-son bonding post-apocalypse. From the scorched landscape the survivors drag their tired carcasses through to the band of roving cannibals that give the third act an injection of action, Hell could have been a television adaptation of McCarthy’s novel for The CW, trading in Viggo Mortensen’s ugly mug for a quartet of youn actors who manage to be attractive even when covered in grime.

While the film may feel overly familiar to any that have seen one or two movies from the post-apocalypse genre (other films Hell borrows from are Mad Max, Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later), it would be unfair to completely dismiss Fehlbaum’s film. Competently made, Hell is an engrossing, beautifully shot film that thrives within its low-budget limitations. The actors, led by Hannah Herzprung (co-star of Bryan Singer’s web-series H+), never feel out of place in the dusty sets – not something that can be said about every actor that throws on a pair of dirty goggles and stars in a post-apocalyptic movie. The character arcs and twists have an organic feel, never seeming forced or unearned.

Hell is produced by Roland Emmerich yet shows none of the director’s trademark bombastic approach to entertainment. The film is positively subdued and thoughtful, slow in pace and devoid of overt special effects. Whatever involvement Emmerich had on the production seems to be minimal. Let’s hope some of Hell‘s minimalist approach to storytelling rubbed off on the director of Independence Day.

Hell has been renamed for some retailers (mostly Wal-Mart, presumably due to the conservative nature of the retailer) to Apocalypse. Because that’s so much more pleasant of a title… Ironically, Hell takes its name not for the biblical connotations of the word (though I’m sure the double-entendre did not go unnoticed) but because it is the German word for “bright,” a word that describes much of the film’s sunbaked cinematography.

Hell is a worthy entry in a genre that is as baron as the burnt-out landscapes that populate its films. There is little new or rewarding to discover in Hell from audiences overly familiar with the post-apocalyptic genre. The movie placidly limps along a path that is pretty easy to navigate. That said, the film knows that path well and is a more than capable tour guide. A brisk pace and competent filmmaking helps make the film a lot easier to swallow – no matter how tired you are of the taste of gloomy post-apocalyptic fare.

Hell was shot on a RED digital camera in 4K. Presented in 2.40.1 widescreen, the film looks great. The majority of the film is set under an overly bright sun, giving the film a washed out, cracked look. Managing to avoid being overly oppressive in its sunbaked setting, the film uses its scorched filters wisely, giving the film an atmospheric look without coming off as cheap. The DVD offers a fantastic presentation of the film visually.

Hell is set on a default to play an incredibly poor English dub. No effort is made to mix in the English performances with the rest of the film’s soundtrack and the voices hover in the air like disembodied spirits. Stick with the 5.1 German soundtrack and English subtitles. The audio is crisp and all channels are appropriately balanced.

There are no extras included with the disc.

ArcEntertainment Presents Hell. Directed by: Tim Fehlbaum. Written by: Tim Fehlbaum, Oliver Kahl and Thomas Wobke. Starring: Hannah Herzsprung, Lars Eidnger, Stipe Erceg, Lisa Vicari and Angela Winkler. Running time: 90 minutes. Rating: R. Released: August 21, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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