It was once the source of life, light and warmth but now the sun has turned the entire world into a baked and barren wasteland. Forests are scorched. Animal carcasses line the roads. Even the nights are dazzlingly bright. Marie, her little sister Leonie and Phillip are heading for the mountains. Rumour has it that water can still be found there but it is a hazardous trip into the unknown. Despite their struggle to overcome the odds, they are lured into an ambush and then the real battle for survival begins...
Directed by: Tim Fehlbaum
. Starring: Lilo Baur
, Marco Calamandrei
, Lisa Vicari
, Lars Eidinger
, Hannah Herzsprung
, Stipe Erceg
, Hans-Peter Recktenwald
, Yoann Blanc
, Christoph Gaugler
, Angela Winkler
, Nino Böhlau
, Ellen Schweiger
, Lutz Pretzsch
. Music by: Lorenz Dangel
Imagine you are a writerdirector who saw 'The Road', and now want to make a movie ''just like that'', but you lack the budget, the cast, and the writing. Your result may resemble 'Hell', a German foray into the post-apocalyptic genre. Don't get me wrong here, being a fan of both dystopian narratives and German film, 'Hell' really did pique my curiosity, but sadly failed to meet expectations.
What does appear striking is the strong Road semblance its creators obviously wanted to give the whole thing (even down to the canned peaches). What may have doomed the whole enterprise from the get-go is the fact that Hillcoat's adaptation of McCarthy's novel is one of the best pieces of post-apocalyptic fiction ever made. Setting the bar at this height does not bode well for Fehlbaum's endeavor.
Heightened solar activity has heated up Earth's atmosphere, leaving its surface an inhospitable and barren place, where plant life no longer can sustain the blistering heat. The remaining survivors fight for Earth's scarcest resource – water. Rumors have it that water still can be found in the higher regions of the German Alps, destination of our group of survivors (Marie, Leonie, and Phillip).
Evidently the movie was shot on a very tight budget. The only noteworthy CGI is the bloom effect of the glaring sun, which is simple but does its job. Other than that, the film does little to convince us of the inclement world the characters amble around in. There are no money shots to speak of (crucial to establishing a fictitious world), the only rewarding part in sense of immersion is the rest area right at the beginning. Whatever set-up comes after this locale appears ill-conceived and lackluster.
The cast does not really seem to grasp their characters, either, dealing further detrimental blows to the credibility of 'Hell''s world. Worst, by far, is veteran actress Angela Winkler, whose delivery is at times comical. Throughout her entire screen time she doesn't seem to be able to make heads or tails out of her role. To a lesser degree the same is true for the rest of the cast. Hanna Herzsprung's decisions are hard to follow, her acting is random at best. The same goes for Lars Eidinger, who apparently is unsure whether Phillip is an coldhearted realist, craven opportunist, or takes heart from Marie's actions and mans up after all. Only Stipe Erceg is able to bestow some depth upon his rendition of Tom. All of this, however, does not stem from bad acting per se – it appears rather obvious that the character design was poorly executed, accompanied by a weak director's vision for the characters at hand.
This also manifests in many inconsistencies throughout the film. The dangerousness of the sun, for example, ranges from 'deadly' (2 hours of exposure will burn your skin) to 'bright' where people simply 'cannot see so well' but otherwise couldn't care less if they are exposed to the supposedly deadly sunlight. It is pretty much self-explanatory what this does to the referential frame of the film, and it leaves a staunch sensation of arbitrariness.
Another dubitable decision is the movie's pacing. Suspense-laden slow takes work well in stretches where this exact sense of suspense is supposed to be conveyed. To choose only slowly paced takes will eventually tire the viewer and lose his attention. And at times, the scenes drag along like the nets of an Atlantic trawler. All in all, 'Hell' has a net screening time of approx. 80 minutes, which is not a lot – but with the few events actually going on on-screen, everything could easily be wrapped up in 30 minutes or less. In addition, slow paced takes are usually a staple of the horror genre, with often visceral effects resolving the tension abruptly in a shock effect way. The overuse of this technique gives 'Hell' more than a hint of horror shocker, and in the last third of the film you are not sure what genre you are actually finding yourself in. Whereas the themes and motives are the same as in 'The Road', the genre seems to have shifted in 'Hell'. Statements about the human condition in 'The Road' have given way to a capitalization on shock value in 'Hell'. Which in my opinion is a poor artistic choice.
All in all, I still welcome Fehlbaum's attempt at post-apocalyptic film-making, a genre (among many others) neglected by German cinema, although the outcome as such fails to convince. I wouldn't go so far as to call 'Hell' bad (it certainly is not good), but its flaws render the whole enterprise disappointingly boring and lackluster. However, this shot at a German post-apocalypse is maybe necessary to spark further attempts and may set the stage for more stringent and enthralling works.
Review by StrongKanegou from the Internet Movie Database.