Director: Andrew Robertson
Cast: Carter Roy, Amy Rutberg, Chris Kies, Sebastian Beacon, Eva Grace Kellner, Travis Grant
Running time: 74 minutes
What better way to put a spring in your step on a wet afternoon, than to sit down to watch a post apocalyptic thriller? If nothing else, it changes your perspective on how bad the weather makes things seem.
Refuge (originally titled The Mansion) takes a premise that has been re-worked many times; a plague has spread throughout the population, killing nearly everyone in sight thus leading to a chaotic, dark and uncivilised world. The immediate assumption when approaching a film like this, is that you will witness zombies (in their droves) tearing people limb from limb. That however, is not the journey that Refuge takes and and it’s all the stronger for it.
In a gripping opening scene we witness a band of men approaching an isolated and vulnerable home. Immediately an unsettling tension hovers over the screen which is solidified when, despite the protestation of one of the party, the men advance on the house to pillage and kill who ever gets in their way. It is a startling and arresting opening which sets the tone of the film and establishes the characters quickly. We then learn, through news footage and desolate city shots, that there has been an outbreak of a deadly virus which is untreatable by antibiotics and spreading quickly. It’s succinctly and subtly presented, feeling eerily real and more than a terrifying possibility in this modern world. Having understood what has happened up to this point, we meet four survivors who are struggling to exist; parents with a young child and a single man, all trying to survive in one house together.
Considering this is Director Andrew Robertson’s début feature, it’s an extremely confident film that manages to steer clear of horrendous back story and laboured expository scenes. The muted, almost bleached colour adds to the theme and despair of the world the film depicts. The colours are so subdued that at times you’d be forgiven for thinking it was shot in back and white. In all aspects it is a slickly produced film, with arresting scenes and a real understanding of emotion and tension. This level of expertise for a first time feature is understandable when you realise that Refuge is produced by Passerby Films, an accomplished production company who clearly understand the power of storytelling.
Back to the film itself and as we watch our four survivors try to stay alive, we flit back to the initial band of men from the opening scene. Russell (Sebastian Beacon) the lone voice of reason, does not want to be involved with the killings and vigilante violence carried out by Rez (a terrifically disturbing Travis Grant) and the rest of the men. However, opting out is not an option and Rez makes it clear that if Russell runs, he will find him. This is exactly where Refuge elevates itself above other post-apocalypse films.
The threat here is not from lumbering zombies, or even a new strain of souped-up ones. The threat and fear comes from people themselves. Refuge is about the breakdown of humanity; people kill not because they know no better or even for survival of the fittest, there is a sadistic pleasure in every killing that this uncivilised world brings. However, whilst the killings are brutal, they don’t feel revelled in. One particular attack with a baseball bat spiked with nails is particularly disturbing, partly due to a cut away at exactly the moment of impact.
Needless to say, Russell makes his escape and is found and taken in by the other survivors. Oblivious to the danger they are opening themselves up to, Russell promises them he knows of a safe haven that they can all make their way too. But does it really exist? In a film where it is every man for himself and the worst of humanity is on display, it is virtually impossible to know who to trust. This is not a fun world to be living in, but from the comfort of the world we inhabit, it’s an entertaining one to watch.
8 out of 10