ON IN CINEMAS
EIFF 2019: Ever After (2018) dir: Carolina Hellsgård
N.B. This film is not on general release in the UK at present. It is showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Friday 28th June 2019.
Two girls embark on a journey through zombie territory
This German-made horror drama (originally titled Endzeit) is set in the midst of a zombie apocalypse when just two cities are left standing: Weimar and Jena. Gro Swantje Kohlhof plays Vivi, a traumatised, suicidal adolescent girl living in Weimar who decides to stowaway on a freight train bound for Jena. She discovers that another girl - a tough fighter named Eva (Maja Lehrer) - has decided to join her on the journey.
Things become difficult, however, when the train breaks down partway through the trip, forcing the pair of them to walk the rest of the way with a constant threat of zombie attacks hanging over them.
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Just when you were certain that the whole zombie concept has been done to death, along comes this beautiful, haunting and poetic take on the genre. While it does feature a fair number of frenzied undead attacks and gory effects, they come amid long stretches of meditative near-stillness and painterly visuals which bring to mind more Andrei Tarkovsky than George Romero.
At its heart, it’s more of a thoughtful tale of guilt and the inherent value of human life than anything else. This manifests through the yin-yang relationship between the two central female protagonists. Vivi, who is unable to get over the loss of her younger sister during the onset of the apocalypse, takes the journey less to save her own life than to find her corpse and finally bury her in one last reconciliatory gesture. Eva, on the other hand, is desperate to reach Jena because she has been infected and has heard that they have created a cure for zombification. While she sees Vivi as a burden, she also clearly feels something for her.
There’s also an overriding environmental message about how the zombie virus is a de-facto mechanism for evicting some now-unwelcome guests: humankind. This has been executed somewhat less effectively than the central relationship dynamic because it breaks with the otherwise impeccable reliance on visual storytelling by introducing an Earth Mother type character (played by Trine Dyrholm) with plants growing on her face (yes, really) to spell out the whole thing.
There are many striking images here: a decrepit train washroom filled with butterflies, a dusk horizon punctuated by two giraffes who escaped from a zoo (echoes of Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys here), a discovery of some zombies underwater when one of the characters falls into a castle moat, the haunting image of zombie silhouettes coming over the crest of a hill at nighttime and much more besides. The film’s production design also has an impeccable authenticity about it, right down to layers of grot, dust and food rotting away on long-deserted dinner tables.
Ever After is a film of striking contrasts: violence and tranquility, beauty and ugliness, warmth and brutality. It really should be seen by any horror fan who seeks something a little more contemplative and artistic than the usual fare.
Runtime: 91 mins
Dir: Carolina Hellsgård
Script: Olivia Vieweg
Starring: Gro Swantje Kohlhof, Maja Lehrer, Trine Dyrholm, Barbara Philipp