Directed by Peter Engert
Aftermath is a claustrophobic film that brings you all the aspects of a zombie apocalypse save one thing… zombies. And as it turns out, and as we’ve seen so many time before, you don’t really need the zombies to create tension. Man has always been much more vicious than even the most bloodthirsty walker.
CJ Thomason stars as a doctor in Aftermath, which wastes absolutely no time in getting the action started. And we do find our hero in the middle of an apocalypse, but instead of being the zombie kind, it’s much more frightening. It’s the nuclear kind!
As the film begins, nuclear explosions are going off all over Texas. Listen, I don’t want to run into the undead any more than you do, but if the Doomsday Clock ever hits midnight, it’s not going to be because of zombies. It’s going to be because the governments of the world finally went apeshit and somebody pressed “The Button.”
The premise of Aftermath may indeed be its strongest feature. The threat of a full-scale nuclear attack may be remote, but it’s not nearly as remote as a zombie invasion. This is indeed a scary idea. The story quickly thrusts a bunch of characters into the basement of a house, where they intend to stay for at least a month to try to avoid the worst of the radiation exposure. Initially what you have is a bunch of undeveloped characters thrown in together, and as a viewer you’re pretty much thinking, “Okay, who the hell is who here? But the writer, Christian McDonald, does a good job of making each character stand on his/her own and giving the audience something they can get into.
In this basement we’re treated to all the horrors of a situation like this. Isolation, mistrust, the physical degradation of the body after radiation exposure, and the eventual onset of outsiders trying to get into the group’s well-stocked shelter. And we get a true look at each character as the situation worsens.
Thomason is very likable as Hunter, and Edward Furlong is equally effective as the surly Brad, a character reminiscent of Karl Hardman’s Harry from Night of the Living Dead. And indeed much of the vibe of Aftermath conjures feelings of Night of the Living Dead. The paranoia and claustrophobia are there in spades, as well as a growing sense of doom.
Director Peter Engert does an impressive job building tension in a movie that was basically shot all in one cellar. The weaknesses and fears of each character are touched upon, and although it doesn’t really flesh out all the characters and relationships fully, we see enough to get the idea. And we do indeed get a bit of zombie-esque action, although the film clearly relates that the creatures we see are actually humans who were exposed to the fallout and this is the effect of that exposure. They definitely look and rage like zombies, but it was an interesting angle to take in a post-apocalyptic film.
On the downside, the pace of the film, after its frantic start, does slow down quite a bit. Of course we’re following these survivors isolated in a cellar over the course of a month. Not a lot is going on down there most of the time so it figures that things drag in some spots. But fear not; there are certainly high points of action throughout and viewers should find enough here to keep them interested.
Think of Aftermath as a cautionary tale as to what could happen if those bombs ever really landed. It’s a true possibility, and that gives the movie some clout. As the days in that cellar roll on and you see what is happening to the survivors, you may feel that those instantly killed by the blast got the better end of the deal.
3 out of 5