Playing at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, The Wellis a slick and impassioned post-apocalypse parable. Sadly, its cleanliness and prettiness undercut a lot of the immediate drama.
The Los Angeles Film Festival is currently underway here in the City of Angels, and the fest has always been careful to showcase a good number of offbeat, low-budget genre pictures in a segment they call The Beyond. One of the movies screened was the directorial debut of art director Thomas S. Hammock who worked on You’re Next and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.
The Well feels a lot like a prep course. It bears all of the earmarks of a typical post-apocalypse thriller, but in an easier, gentler form. It’s Mad Max light, now 100% filth-free. The violence is eventually brutal (there is a sword fight, some brutal gun executions, and other various murders), but it’s never too messy. People are dying of thirst, but are never really seen suffering, and are most certainly never in a position where they look unattractive. There is no water in the post-apocalypse world, but everyone has clean hair and skin, straight teeth, and impeccable clothing. Even when they are apprehended by ruffians and bashes about the head and neck, the wounds seem to compliment their outfits. When someone gets arterial spray on their face, it doesn’t get in their hair or muss their makeup. This is the J. Crew version of Armageddon.
It’s the not-too-distant future, and it’s been years since the last rainfall. People living in “The Valley” are holed up in attractively shabby-chic hovels, hoarding water and staving off the encroaching advances of the evil Carson (John Gries), a corporate sleazeballs in a gray suit who has been killing off stragglers, and bringing able-bodied survivors back to his camp. Carson controls the water in this valley. Our heroine is a teenage fashion plate named Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson), who is looking after her attractively ailing boyfriend Dean (Booboo Stewart). They have guns, but hardly look like the kind of people who would ever use them. There is an unfortunate trend in movie casting that dictates that only thin, pretty, petite women can take jobs like boxers and spies and post-apocalypse warriors. It’s the logic that gave us Blake Lively as a fighter pilot in Green Lantern. Given how frail and cosmopolitan our two protagonists look, I had trouble buying that they would be able to defend themselves in any sort of survival situation. These two look like they would go into conniptions if their 4GLTE network went down for a few hours.
This is not to say that The Well has nothing worthwhile to offer. It tells its story well enough, has a wonderfully atmospheric score, contains some interesting plot twists, and the final fights are clear and exciting, if not entirely logical. Richardson certainly gives her all when she enters into sword-wielding mode. If you are a teenager whose experience with post-apocalypse movies doesn’t extend too far past the Resident Evil franchise, then something like The Well may feel like a minor revelation.
For the rest of us, however, who have been weaned on a long string of Australian-produced, 1980s, car-based post-apocalypse movies, The Wellwill feel pale and limp and toothless. This is all stuff we’ve seen before, done in a much more interesting way in more appealingly low-fi films. The Well is the most attractive world-gone-mad thriller I have ever seen, undercutting the chaos, the filth, and the gritty, vaguely-realistic thrills of the genre. It does nothing shocking or daring with its premise, following the rules and staying within the lines. Sometimes, sir, anarchy can help.