What's Left Of Us

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

What's Left Of Us
"A fascinating film which uses the existential zombie threat to draw out aspects of human interaction that are ultimately far more disturbing."

A zombie Apocalypse. A desperate group of people trying to learn the skills they need to stay alive. Genre fans could watch a fresh version of this several times a week, but one question is rarely addressed - what happens to the ones who survive? How does it feel to be alive, weeks or months after it all started, when what used to be a frightening but energising daily scavenger hunt has become tedious routine, when you struggle to remember how many you've killed but you still hear them howling outside every night? Coping with this in the long term requires more than practical skill: it requires a degree of personal transformation perhaps not so very different from that undergone by the zombies themselves.

Ana, Axel and Jonathan live in a fortified house in an anonymous urban area where everything is visibly suffering from neglect. They've fixed the place up to be both secure and liveable; they have a good supply of tools that everyone is handy with. They also have guns, knives, chains, manacles. But what they don't have, and need badly, is other people. Whether this is a result of fortune or choice is something the film will query; certainly, as far as Ana knows, she was very lucky to stumble upon the two friends when she thought she was the only person left in the world. This has created an awkward balance of power, of which she initially seems the most aware. A set of rules is drawn up. Big decisions are supposed to be unanimous. A therapy room is created where thoughts and feelings can be recorded on tape and then posted into a locked box. But is everyone willing to play by the rules? Are the rules, in fact, an impediment to adjusting to this world?

Things come to a head when the men bring home a zombie to keep captive. They call it a pet. It becomes, alternately, a punchbag and a doll. The contents of a wallet give hints of a past existence. Meanwhile, Axel grows increasingly obsessed with acquiring small tattoos, markings not dissimilar in form to the bodies of the flies that buzz constantly around the house. Jonathan struggles to face the changing world around him, to cope with the fact that Ana is no longer his lover. The house is full of resentment. Ana feels herself watched, objectified, at risk of losing her identity, and she begins to suspect that the change will have to start with herself.

This isn't really a film aimed at horror fans; the zombies are almost incidental and anyone hoping for gore will be disappointed. Despite this, it managed the rare feat of making this hardened critic jump, and there are points when it will have most viewers genuinely scared. Slow to build, it creates tension from the grinding pressures of its protagonists' circumscribed lives. Though it wouldn't be difficult to adapt for the stage (and, indeed, Victoria Almedia, who plays Ana, is primarily a stage actress), it makes effective use of the spaces within the house and the tiny area we see outside, and takes a properly cinematic approach to lighting. The soundtrack, entirely composed of howls, shuffling, and the buzzing of those relentless flies, invites us to imagine the endlessness of the anguish eating away at the characters' peace of mind.

A fascinating film which uses the existential zombie threat to draw out aspects of human interaction that are ultimately far more disturbing, What's Left Of Us sidesteps many of the familiar tropes of this type of drama, too, to deliver something much more unusual. It's elegantly put together, confidently performed and well worth watching.

Reviewed on: 05 May 2015
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What's Left Of Us packshot
Three bored survivors of a zombie apocalypse adopt one of the undead as a pet, with dangerous consequences.

Director: Christoph Behl

Starring: Victoria Almeida, Lautaro Delgado, Lucas Lagr

Year: 2015

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Argentina

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