JUNE 3, 2012
It’s never a good sign when you’re an hour into the movie and still wondering when the plot described on the back of the DVD case is going to kick in. According to the synopsis, The Collapsed is about a family that “takes to the forest, only to discover the danger posed by other survivors may be the least of their worries”. Sounds cool, right? An inverse of the usual zombie movie motif of having a bunch of folks hole up somewhere and realize that the zombies weren’t as bad as the human element! But no, that movie never happens, and it’s not until the final 5 minutes (I’m rounding up) that anything but other survivors comes into play.
To explain what would be a spoiler, and thus technically so is the synopsis, as it’s not exactly LYING but cannot possibly be referring to anything but a twist that is revealed in its closing moments, as there isn’t as much as a wild animal posing any other threat to the characters besides those “other survivors” throughout the runtime. Basically, it would be akin to saying that Sixth Sense is about a ghost-seeing boy named Cole who learns to help the ghost he sees the most often – there’s nothing else it could be referring to. Hopefully most of the audience that might enjoy the film otherwise will go in blind.
Then again, I was already in the “not for me” camp before I took a look at the DVD case (to see the runtime) and noticed this oddity, so it might not matter. The synopsis issue doesn’t have any bearing on the fact that this is a slowly paced “character driven” version of a post-apocalyptic movie where the characters simply aren’t that interesting. At one point the father and son characters have a heart to heart about why the older man wasn’t around much (the mom cheated on him and thus he decided to focus more on work so that they could spend time apart), and that’s probably the closest it ever gets to compelling character drama. And not for nothing, but Clark Griswold talking to Rusty about why Aunt Edna is such a pain in the ass is more interesting (from Vacation - it came to mind because both scenes involve the son drinking a beer).
But at least they’re talking about their real lives, which is much better than the bulk of the film’s dialogue. More often than not, our heroes are just saying stuff out of a “How To Survive The Apocalypse” manual: arguing about food availability, the benefits of traveling by foot instead of by car (“it’s a huge target!”), ammo conservation… it’s like one of the worst issues of The Walking Dead come to life! It doesn’t help that two of the characters make an (admittedly shocking) exit 30 minutes in, which leaves less of an opportunity for different family dynamics. Then again, none of them look anything alike (the closest is probably the mother and father, oddly), so the less time we spend trying to believe that these folks are blood relatives is probably for the best.
And all of that is a shame, because there IS a decent film bubbling under the surface. There’s a pretty great nightmare scene that takes on new meaning later, and I like the idea of setting this sort of thing in a forest instead of the usual “deserted city” locales that almost always underwhelm given the production’s budget (or they use terrible CGI to destroy a few skyscrapers while the audience just laughs). And the deaths of two family members is perfectly placed; far enough into the movie to work as a shock, but not so far that it feels like they had to die just so we can say that something actually happened. From then on we fear for the lives of the other two, making the rare bits of action tenser than one might find in this sort of thing. I also liked being “duped” in a way; when some major things happened off-screen I assumed it was because they couldn’t afford to show it, making later ON-SCREEN events all the more shocking when they occur. It’s not that these guys didn’t know what they were doing, they just didn’t have the skill with dialogue and/or convincing enough actors to pull it off.
However, if you disagree with my take, you should quite like the commentary track by writer/director/editor/producer Justin McConnell and partner Kevin Hutchinson. They’re quite proud of their film (they're even a touch arrogant at times), and spend the 80 minutes complimenting it, each other, the actors, etc. while telling the usual production stories. It can be a bit grating at times as the two laugh at each others’ not particularly funny (or understandable to those outside of the production) jokes and anecdotes (and can we PLEASE stop with the “I hope you’re not watching the commentary before the movie” jokes? NO ONE DOES THAT AND NO ONE EVER WILL), but they do point out a few minor flubs and such, so it’s all good. The other commentary is by lead actor John Fantasia, but I couldn’t get through it as it sounded like they recorded it over Skype or something and it was actually hurting my ears (he also falls silent often, another red mark).
The rest of the extras are kind of annoying, because they’re not really on the damn disc. There’s a 71 minute making of documentary that you can either scan a QR code or go to a URL (not hyperlinked, so you have to type it out even if you’re watching on a DVD-rom) and type in a login/password. Either way it just takes you to a Youtube clip, which is just annoying. The piece was uploaded months ago, and the movie isn’t very long (the two combined would be just over 150 minutes) so there’s no reason it couldn’t be on the disc. Ditto the (quite good) soundtrack and the screenplay, which could easily have fit on the disc as well but have to be downloaded elsewhere. All that’s actually on here is a music video, some hilariously overzealous bios for the cast and crew, and a couple of trailers. As for the doc itself, it’s fine – it suffers from some of the same in-jokey feel that the commentary has, and at times feels like it’s something they made to sell themselves on prospective investors than to film nerds who might like to see how a low budget movie is made, but it’s well made, and despite the length doesn’t feel unnecessarily long (like Rob Zombie’s 4 hour endurance test of a “documentary” on Halloween), so, like the commentary, if you really enjoyed the film it’s worth the obnoxious way you have to access it.
It’s always a shame when the only thing that really makes a movie memorable is its final five minutes; if this stuff made up the entire third act they might have had something here. It’s a good twist, but the best twists serve movies that are interesting even without it – Bruce could have just gone home and given his wife a kiss and promised to pay more attention to her, and Sixth Sense would still be a damn good flick, you know? Nice try though.
What say you?