The end of the world is not big news, in movies, literature or whatever medium you like. The attractiveness and fascination of a story and a setting describing fallen worlds, ruins, struggle for surviving is almost self-explanatory; as though its ability of to be a life metaphor or allow to even deeper psychological readings. I won’t go any further on this road; first, because I’m not a psychologist; secondly, because I’m here to talk about entertainment. It’s interesting to note, though, as I read recently in an 2008-2009 article I stumbled upon (sorry, don’t remember the link), that almost immediately after the explosion of the economic crisis and the large diffusion of panic and uncertainty among people, the genre had an immediate revamp in the audiences’ taste (maybe we just find refreshing to contemplate some fantasies of our own end).
If we can ever call it “genre”, by the way: because it’s more like a topic that can express itself into a wide variety of main genres, from science fiction to horror (with the sub-genre of zombie movies already mashing these two up), from psychological to social drama, not mentioning comedy.
Anyway, talking about an apocalypse or a catastrophe it’s a deal; how you do it, it’s another. Take as an obvious example the three movie renditions of Matheson’s I Am Legend: 1964’s The Last Man on Earth, 1971’s The Omega Man and 2007 I Am Legend; and note how the Italian movie and the second one, though with lesser means and some imperfections, can convey much more convincingly a sense of desolated, desperate end of civilization than the bombastic CGI of the latter does (not to speak about the inglorious comparison between Vincent Price and Charlton Heston on one side and Will Smith on the other).
The above examples, indirectly, take us where I want to go: showing that a convincing post-apocalyptic story can be told without big budgets and rumbling bangs and booms; more, that, being it a “topos” and a kind of more or less codified sub-cross-genre, there isn’t much space for structural inventions and, on the contrary, what make the difference are the details, the perspective, the vision, the “feel”; which means, in cinematic terms, writing, directing, acting and the usual stuff. And that’s where the independents come aboard and (can) do it better and more freely. And, since there’s no more freedom in entertainment that the one you can find on the web, you can easily understand that all I’ve written so far is just is meant to tell you that I’m gonna talk about web series:
So: here’s a fistful that, in my view, stand out for their innovative or indie approach to the theme.
After Judgment describes a world following the universal judgment: a kind of limbo where survivors are trapped in an immobile eternity, unable to move on.
His strengths: the setting (a suburban, degraded and deserted Los Angeles abandoned), an overexposed and rough photography (“weighed down” with shades of yellow), a good cast (including Joel Bryant, Taryn O’Neal and Stephanie Thorpe), a pace at times wavering, and a general mood somewhat shifting into the direction of an dreamlike delirium (though quite controlled, anything extreme). And of course, a good theme, with the possibility of existential metaphors around the corner, if you like (the immobility above all).
His weaknesses: some chronological jumps not so immediate to decode in an episodic view and an open ending (a second season was planned, that did not materialize). with a twist that, though perfectly coherent with the premises, shifts a little from pure sci-fi. Btw, I do like ’em, both.
The series could be a movie (and according to the last news available it will be, featuring a different ending) and perhaps some of the chronological jumps could be better digested in fluid, uninterrupted vision.
There’s also a light transmedia element: on the official website you can learn the biographies of the characters and access to the twin series Before Judgment, very low budget and vlog-style and set just before the end (originally, as I understand, the two series were released at the same time and on two different websites).
Written and directed by Michael Davies, Canadian filmmaker with a strong independent background, and several awards in international festivals, and produced by his Captain Films, the series debuted in 2008.
The Great Dying
The Great Dying is a variation on the zombie genre.
Swedish production (but set around Seattle), it uses natural locations, mainly derelict buildings and forests, and some beautiful photoshopped backdrops. Solutions that, taken alone, should be watched with suspicion, but redeemed completely by the consistency and solidity of the staging.
The topos is varied replacing zombies with more mysterious and ancestral ghouls; and the after-world is described frankly and coldly as regressed, raw and unforgiving land (as a real post-apocalyptic world would probably be), inhabited by rusted men that totally lost “standard” parameters of social relationships. But how society has changed, and how the concept of “human” needs a subsequent revision, however, is not rendered though verbal or descriptive wank but through small details, gestures, almost casual situations. With an honesty and nihilist analysis that you’ll never find in mainstream zombies productions – where certain sacred “values” are not questioned seriously).
The series is produced by Ödmården Filmproduktion, written by Klas Persson and by him directed with Karin Engman. Launched at the end of 2010, is currently underway. On YouTube you can find the first fifth episodes.
In Tyranny, an existential parable of inner research and delirium is inherent in the setting of a world close to collapse.
Not exactly “post” but “before-disaster”, if you like, (though, through visions of the future, with the certainty or the strong feeling that there will be a catastrophe), the series is hot in a slightly grainy and poor photography (intentional or not, it suits the series mood).
The main character is a frustrated filmmaker who, after an experiment in sensory deprivation gone a little wrong, begins to be tormented by visions and temporal anomalies and embraces paranoid conspiratorial theories. Around him, a scenario of gradual economic and political disintegration, with strong (and prophetic?) analogy to current events.
Tyranny is a “real” web series (not a sliced movie or something): it features episodes from four to twelve minutes, a wide arc, with a declared design of many sub arcs and a narrative that, despite having to deal with the medium’s demands, take its time (and risks), don’t accelerate, synthesize or squeeze pace and events. Its density is somewhere between fiction television and cinema.
First season ended with 18 episodes, a second has been announced. You can see it on YouTube or KoldCast. Or on the official site, that also includes the protagonist’s diary, for a transmedia fruition.
Launched in 2010, produced by Hollywood (by residence) independent (in fact) Weatherman Films Production and financed with an initial campaign fund dating back to 2004 and then with donations from the audience, it’s written, directed, produced, edited etc. by John Beck Hofmann (whose “real” job seems to be director of photography for NASA).
About the apocalypse in the background of Self Centered little is known, except that the main character, fallen and alcoholic actress, is the only one able to avoid it. Not becoming a kind of blockbuster’s kick-ass but putting the best of her art in a movie that happens to be essential to the world’s salvation.
Not surprisingly, the series, released in 2010, is British, credited to Pollibee Pictures and Steven Keevil (Author), Kevin Proctor (director) and Tamana Bleasdale (producer).
Self Centered is intriguing, solid and attractive. Mixture of science fiction, mystery tale and psychological drama, plays on a strong idea, a good performance, an effective and livid digital photography and a bit of British touch. The only downside is the excessive shortness of the episodes.
The first season ended leaving the door open to many possibilities (pre-production of the second one has been announced). And if the ambiguity and the oscillation between chronological plans contribute to the flavor, at the same time, for now, make difficult a precise classification of the series. That’s nothing less than a virtue.
You can see it in HD on YouTube or KoldCast.
Just some more (if you like)
Of incontestable production quality is the British sci-fi series Kirill (which can’t be properly defined “indie”), winner of a Webby Award in 2008 and produced by Endemol Digital Studios and Pure Grass Films for MSN (almost 50 people working on it for six months).
The series, which portrays a survivor of the disaster trying to communicate with the past in a desolate room, is still watchable on the official site: charming, lovely but also hermetic and foggy. But not by chance: some pieces are missing; because the series was part of a titanic transmedia experience, expanded on fictitious websites, social profiles, blogs and vlogs of the characters, each one bearing content and information essential to understanding the story, and now irretrievably lost. However, an assembled version (around 40 minutes) integrating some of these elements is still watchable on Hulu.
Finally, I bring to your attention another small British series, Raptured, that unlike all the previous ones is a funny dark comedy.
Based on the concept that the systematic and sudden disappearance of much of earth’s population is due to a sort of ecological “cleaning”, features a main character tricked into taking the role of “reaper”.
Launched in 2011, credited the Red on Black Productions (UK/Canada), it’s written and directed by Heather Taylor, active in the field of short films, social video, documentaries.
On Blip or KoldCast.
[If you did find this article interesting, you may want to check the previous retrospectives on web series, too]
- Prisons, prisoners and recluses. Web series that capture you (trivial pun intended)
- Good old horror flicks. In a web series format