The Good: Concept, Moments where the “world” seems conceptually well-developed
The Bad: Mediocre acting, Poor editing and directing, Characters that do not “pop.”
The Basics: Not unpleasant to watch, 20 Years After is a post-apocalyptic survival story that seems like it is going somewhere, but never quite lands.
Lately, I have been watching more post-apocalyptic films; I’m not sure why. I do know, however, that I was well behind the times in that I only managed to catch The Book Of Eli (reviewed here!) on DVD last month for the first time. When 20 Years After came up as an option for m to view, I was instantly drawn to the concept, though the blurb on the plot sounded remarkably familiar. It did not take me long to realize why; 20 Years After is being marketed much like Children Of Men (reviewed here!) in that an apocalyptic event has occurred and there are no pregnant women in the emptied world. Sadly, with its production values, poor editing, mediocre directing and writing and lack of any genuine star power in the actors or the performances, 20 Years After is more Assisted Fishing (reviewed here!) than it is Children Of Men.
To its credit, 20 Years After hints at being a surprisingly well-developed and complicated vision of the burned-out future than its low-budget appearance might insinuate. Writers Ron Harris and Jim Torres seem to have something they want to say with 20 Years Later, but they do not quite land their message whatwith filling up the world with ventriloquist dummies, comatose twins, psychotic ladies, psychic sidesteps and abbreviated displays of spirituality. While I love complicated movies, 20 Years After is not that. It is, instead, a mess.
Michael On The Radio is living underground in the desolated world after a nuclear attack that has killed most of the world’s population. He plays music over a limited transmitter that seems to reach everyone he is ever likely to meet. But, one day his compound is infiltrated by a man who wants him to find the source of another voice on the radio they heard in his encampment one night recently. Michael makes the trip to the stranger’s camp at the same time that Sarah and her mother, Margaret, run out of water in their bunker. Samuel pops up in their home, which is actually his house, and guides them to the encampment.
The encampment, however, is not safe and Margaret’s song David pops up to steal Sarah’s baby, not realizing that the child that his mistress has sent him to abduct belongs to his sister. In fleeing for Harvey’s (the other man on the radio outside the safe zone) compound, Michael drives his new friends into Ms. Mynard’s trap!
So, the crazy Ms. Mynard has been using David to steal an unborn baby and that seems to be about the sum total of the concept behind the plot of the film. I kept waiting for the story to build into something more, but it never did. In fact, the disappointing aspect of 20 Years After - more than the BBC TV production values – is that the film seems to be a study in truly wasted potential. The best science fiction makes a statement; it holds a mirror up to where we are now and contrasts it with potentials that either give us hope or provide us with a cautionary tale of how humanity’s progress could be co-opted. 20 Years After, regrettably, never rises to the point where it actually makes a statement.
Instead, 20 Years After is so focused on unraveling its own convoluted plot and character combinations, that it does not end up saying anything clearly (despite the obvious, canned, monologue at the end of the film. In fact, the end monologue is like a statement that tries to make up for the lack of substance to the rest of the film. 20 Years After is not a story about the rebirth of hope in the world, it’s a tiresome, droll psychological beatdown that fails to emotionally affect the viewer because we fail to invest in the world or characters the film presents. Is Samuel supernatural? If David has a relatively normal childhood prior to the disaster, how did he come to accept crazy Ms. Mynard as normal?
20 Years After seems to want to be a story of the triumph of the human spirit after the apocalypse but on that front, the film is crushed by the mediocre (at best) acting. I have enjoyed Diane Salinger in virtually everything I have seen her in, but in 20 Years After she is woefully misused as Margaret. Margaret seems hardened, but she is never hard enough to actually make any decisions which would protect her daughter and unborn grandchild. Instead, everyone says she is cold and hardened to the world, but she stupidly lets Michael run the show, takes Ms. Mynard’s drugged cup, and sleeps with both eyes closed. In other words, poor Diane Salinger is given a role where the characters talk a good game about her, but when she gets to perform the role, there is not enough substance to it to allow her to actually present the character with any real depth.
Joshua Leonard plays Michael, arguably the least-interesting post-apocalyptic protagonist of all time. Leonard is bland and his performance gives no clear reason why his character would even care that there is another person Out There on radio. Azura Skye plays Sarah with such a lack of zest or passion, it is virtually impossible to believe her character ever had sex to conceive the child that everyone is so excited about. Reg E. Cathey’s Samuel is interesting enough, but he seems to be a wildcard thrown in and his place in the movie only seems to confuse the reality of the twisted, burned out world.
With some terrible edits early on, it is hard to stick with 20 Years After. While the film is bad, it is not oppressive or unpleasant to watch; it is just boring. And for those who stick with it to try to find meaning in the film, it is unsatisfying and unfortunately disappointing.
For other works with Reg E. Cathey, please visit my reviews of:
House Of Cards - Season 1
Homicide: The Movie
“Aquiel” - Star Trek: The Next Generation
Check out how this film stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page for a comparative listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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