Ever After

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Ever After
"Given a magical quality by director Carolina Hellsgård's distinctive shooting style and Leah Striker's luminous cinematography, this is a world that seems full of new possibilities."

Fast zombies, slow zombies, redneck zombies, bogan zombies, space zombies, underwater zombies, Nazi zombies, animal zombies, even old fashioned voodoo zombies - they all, ultimately, do the same thing, and so do 99% of the films they're in. Zombies attack. Our heroes run away. Fortifications are built and those hiding in them dream of everything going back to the way it was before. Nobody really has any fresh ideas. It's rare for anyone to question what their survival is for.

That's the way it seems, to begin with, in Weimar. Those who are well enough serve on the wall, which is really more of a patchwork fence - it takes a lot of effort to keep on holding back the undead, day after day. Inside, the city is grim, depressed. Somebody gives Vivi (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) some pink hair dye. A bit of colour is what the places needs, she says. It's only when those rosy locks swing into view that we're alerted to just how drab the rest of her surroundings are. It's no wonder that her mental health has been suffering, no wonder that she takes the first available opportunity to get out of there.

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It should be a simple trip. Jena is also fortified and zombie free. It's only 12 miles away and, if it weren't for the zombies, would be an easy day's hike, hills and forest notwithstanding. In the circumstances, Vivi takes the train that runs automatically between the two cities. When it unexpectedly breaks down halfway, she and the only other passenger, a young woman called Eva (Maja Lehrer), make their way through a landscape that is dangerous but also increasingly peculiar. In the absence of humans, nature has set about reclaiming all the spaces from which it was shut out. The grass grows up past head height. Rivers are choked full of weeds and stranger things. Then there's the mysterious Gardener (Trina Dyrholm, fresh from wowing audiences in Nico, 1988 and bringing something of the same quality of oddness and self-possession to this role). With the undead stalking through the trees, her focus on growing vegetables may seem like madness, but perhaps she has a better understanding of what's going on than anyone else the travellers have met.

Stunning set design tells poignant stories as the women visit homes where none of the living remain. Vivi is haunted by memories of the little sister she failed to save, convinced that she must still be out there somewhere. Eva has no time for sentiment - the way she sees it, the survivors consist mostly of those who were willing to sacrifice others. She has another, more urgent concern driving her. Frequently at odds, the two struggle to find their own paths yet acknowledge the connection built by shared experience.

In the usual survivor narratives, there's not much room for young women to concern themselves with self-realisation. If saving the species is the focus, they have a choice between being eaten or being used as breeding stock. For Vivi and Eva, going back to the way things were gradually loses its appeal. Exotic animals stride across the landscape, escaped from zoos. Strange flowers bloom. Given a magical quality by director Carolina Hellsgård's distinctive shooting style and Leah Striker's luminous cinematography, this is a world that seems full of new possibilities.

It has often been said that zombie films are a sign of the times, centred on cynicism and projected dystopias. Hellsgård's film is something new: a shift of perspective, a search for solutions. It's a film made almost entirely by women, with no male speaking parts. It's a film where a little bit of colour, like a seed, brings everything to vivid life.

Reviewed on: 08 Sep 2018
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Ever After packshot
Two years after a zombie apocalypse, two women set off on a long journey in search of a safe haven.

Director: Carolina Hellsgård

Writer: Olivia Vieweg

Starring: Trine Dyrholm, Yûho Yamashita, Barbara Philipp

Year: 2018

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Germany

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