Movie Review – Hell (2011)

Something is wrong with the sun. Solar flares have intensified, heating the planet and licking the surface clean of its water. The population has dwindled to the unlucky few who scavenge for food and water. They wander the post-apocalyptic landscape remaining ever-cautious of any other person they come across. The bright lighting exposes the audience to the searing sun and appealing cinematography keeps the viewer staring at the screen. The cast, too, is strong in their roles. Aptly named, 2011’s Hell (which is German for “bright”) sets up a promising premise for a bleak, survivalist horror film.

Unfortunately, Tim Fehlbaum’s directorial debut gives up on its premise halfway through the film and becomes a cannibal-family horror film the likes of which we’ve seen many times before, from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) to France’s Frontier(s) (2007). Hell actually plays like a tamer, more reserved version of the latter film. The sun is, ironically, left on the back burner, and the film grows increasingly predictable as it goes on.  Also, we never really get to know our characters in a deeper sense.

Additionally, there are some odd artistic choices and some missed opportunities. Nena’s infectious anti-war protest song “99 Luftballons” recurs in the film, but it’s unclear to what end. Both the film and the song deal with a post-apocalyptic world, but Nena’s lyrics are about the specifically man-made disaster of nuclear annihilation and the folly of the Cold War, not an unexplainable natural occurrence. Perhaps the end of life as we know it is the only link, but if so, it’s a weak one that brings up more questions than answers.

As an aside, as I watched I couldn’t help but wish there had been a vampire motif to be found: we have people who burn in the sun and therefore can’t go out in the day, traveling instead at night, and who resort to cannibalism to survive. Had there been more emphasis on blood as opposed to flesh we could have seen a world embracing vampiric habits by necessity, and a more explicit nod to this might have made the script more interesting. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to watch that movie in my head.

Hell quickly loses originality, but it remains a well-executed, well-acted film that’s still enjoyable. Its lack of inventiveness makes it forgettable, but its competence nevertheless makes the experience of viewing it wholly worthwhile.

Grade: C