Don't judge a movie by its cover. That's the lesson to be learned from Tim Fehlbaum's 'Hell.' One glance at the generic horror-like cover and my mind started conjuring up thoughts of 'The Hills Have Eyes 5.' That kind of slasher torture-porn flick isn't really my thing, so from the outset I had trepidations. Then a bit of informational text opened up the movie. We're informed that in the very near future (2016) the sun became too hot. The earth's average temperature rose 10-degrees Celsius. The middle of the day is scorching hot outside. Food and water are running dangerously low. The world resembles the same desolate land that Eli wandered around in during 'The Book of Eli.'
Fehlbaum seems to have shot this thing on a fairly low budget, but that doesn't matter because the situations he creates for the characters that inhabit this inhospitable world work just as well as any big budget post-apocalyptic movie. The movie follows a handful of people who are just looking to survive. Marie (Hannah Herzsprung) is the movie's strong, female lead. She's determined to live, and what's more, she's even more determined to make sure her younger sister Leonie (Lisa Vicari) survives. Both of them have met up with Micha (Michael Kranz). The man has a car, and in this world, a working car is the only safe way to move during the day.
The stage is soon set as our band of ragtag survivors scour gas stations, abandoned vehicles, and various buildings for any sort of food, supplies, or gas. The hot, desolate world has turned what's left of the human race into scavengers.
Micha is sure that the mountains hold the key to their survival. He sees a bird flying towards them and assumes that the bird knows where water is. Only, the mountains may be just as dangerous as anywhere else.
Much like 'The Book of Eli,' and other post-apocalyptic stories, society has quickly broken down. It's every man for himself out here. There are roaming gangs of dangerous people just looking to plunder their supplies and steal their car.
What makes 'Hell' so exciting is the intimate way Fehlbaum constructs his scenes. There is little hope left in this world, but the way he quickly forms the sisterly bond between Marie and Leonie feels genuine. The movie also does a great job at making the world seem as bleak as it possibly can. There are many times in the movie that I was reminded of 'The Road.' A miserable, scorched wasteland as far as the eye can see.
'Hell' is actually a very well-constructed dystopian thriller that finds a way to tell its tale without a huge budget supporting it. This is about the meticulous direction, the clever camerawork, and the surprisingly good acting performances.
The real terror here comes from the fact that you really don't know if Marie and her sister will survive. How could they? This world is no place to live anyway. They're strong and resolute, but there's only so much one person can take right? I had a continuous feeling of dread as I watched Marie encounter one catastrophe after another. There are long moments of dialogue-free scenes here and it works. Fehlbaum expertly builds the tension, creating a believable world populated by resilient and at the same time vulnerable characters.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack from Arc Entertainment. The movie is pressed onto a 25GB Blu-ray Disc. They're housed in a standard size, eco-friendly Blu-ray keepcase. It's noted as being a Region A release and it also comes with a slipcover that features the same artwork as the case. Also worth noting is that when you first start the film its default is to use the English-dubbed version, instead of the German. You have to manually go into the Set Up menu and choose the German language track and the English subtitles if you want to watch it with its original language.
Barring a few noticeable banding maladies the 1080p presentation of 'Hell' looks remarkably good. Detail is wonderfully rich. This is one of those movies where everyone is dirty all of the time. As the sun bakes on their skin it's easy to see each speck of dirt, mud, or grime. Tiny facial details like age-lines, lip creases, and even tiny pores are visible.
One might complain about how washed out some of the scenes are, but this is an intentional look for the film. The sun is drastically brighter in this world and so it cuts through almost every daytime scene with a blinding force. Sometimes edges are overcome by the backlight, sometimes whole faces are lost, but it's the way the movie should look. At least the burning light is clean and free of any unsightly noise. When the sun goes down the movie enters a darker realm. Blacks aren't as inky as they could be. Shadows lack needed depth and appear light gray at times.
There are a few instances where banding is a problem. These couple scenes happen near the beginning in the gas station sequence. It happens when light is fed from the outside through a doorway or windows into the darkened interior of the gas station. The light doesn't blend well with the darker surroundings, so gradually darker bands form around the light until it final darkens around the edges. Other than a few nitpicks though, the majority of the movie looks rather amazing in high-def.
The only lossless track is the German track which is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The default track that the movie selects right when you put it in is the English-dubbed track which is only a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. I actually listened to both of them to see the difference and without a doubt the German track is the way to go. I generally can't stand dubbed mixes anyway, but the German mix outdoes the English one in every way.
What's very notable about this mix is how much attention is paid to the small details like the unified transition of sounds in the front speakers. Even if it's a tin can falling over just to the left of the action, or someone rummaging around an abandoned gas station for supplies. Each sound can be heard clearly and distinctly in the place where it should be.
The dust-bowl-type winds blow around the soundfield filling the rear channels and then traveling up front making you feel like you're in the middle of an world-ending drought. The unforgiving visuals give you a good idea of how harsh the climate is, but the way the wind is handled here really helps put on the finishing touches. Dialogue is always clearly heard through the center and front channels. LFE is a constant force. It's not used excessively, but the movie's subtle score requires a good helping of bass, which is plentiful. Like the video presentation, the audio mostly impresses.
'Hell' was a nice surprise (that's probably the last time I ever write that sentence). I was expecting a low-budget torture-porn movie and instead got something quite different. Fehlbaum has created a believably desolate world, and he's populated it with realistic characters who are thrust into dire life-or-death situations. It may not specifically add many new ideas to the post-apocalyptic wasteland genre, but it does a swell job with its meager means. The video and audio are great too. This one is recommended to anyone who likes a good end-of-the-world thriller.