TAD 2014: Refuge
Humanity is gone except for a few lone survivors. Those lucky enough not to be laid low by a world-ending plague now suffer the hardships of starvation and death by roving gangs. Refuge is the claustrophobic tale of one family trying to make it against all odds.
One of the indiest indie films shown at TAD 2014, Refuge is first-time film maker Andrew Robertson’s take on what is a very vogue theme of the day – post-apocalyptic survival. The characters are few: a man, his wife, their child, the friend, and the stranger trying to put a terrible past behind him. In the same vein as The Walking Dead, this film is an exploration of how humanity can thrive or die out when everything collapses around us.
Refuge was very well cast, each of the ensemble pulling their weight well. Considering it is a tight character drama, one weak link could easily bring the whole thing down. And isn’t one of the first rules of film making that you never work with children or animals? And yet Eva Grace Kellner (fresh off the set of Boardwalk Empire) was clearly easy enough to work with that having a child in the film managed to ratchet up the drama without devolving into schmaltz.
Unfortunately the characters themselves were not as well fleshed out as I had hoped. Director Robertson has excitedly discussed how the Post Apocalyptic genre is a wonderful setting into which you can place any character and then essentially let the story play itself out. Unfortunately he chose to use the most worn-out trope characters possible. The father that will stop at nothing, the mama-bear, the mysterious stranger, and the ill child…none of them really felt like a real person. He had an amazing thought-experiment opportunity and it felt a bit squandered to me. Of all things the sound editing was another issue I had with the film. I’m not sure if it was the on-set audio capturing, or the mixing in editing, but the drama of some scenes suffered for its inconsistency.
The settings however were breathtaking, and perfectly chosen – the cast basically lived in the abandoned parts of Georgia, begging supplies and vehicles off the locals while they filmed, to bring it all together. Some of the derelict houses were genuinely abandoned by their owners. One particularly creepy abode was left empty after its occupant had passed away. They made good use of the homes and woods to led credence to the idea that Everyone Is Gone. Not easy to do when you don’t have the money to close down a town for a day.
All in all it is weaker compared to the other films shown at TAD…but for an indie film it is impressive. I couldn’t have pulled off something like this, and when you frame it as being incredibly low budget and a first effort, you do have to sit back and admire what was produced.