I’m trying out something different with this post. Rather than discussing one particular film, I’m rambling about a loose genre with a couple of specific examples. It goes on a bit I’m afraid but I’ll try to put in some pretty pictures to help with the boredom.
Warning spoilers after the break!
I watched 2 post apocalypse/disaster movies (Aftershock and World War Z) and multiple episodes of The Walking Dead (Series 3) on the weekend. As such I may be a little jaded by this particular genre at the moment. But I have started to notice some common themes and frankly to get a bit bored and annoyed by some of them. I realise that I am by no means the first person to spot these trends nor indeed will I be the first to have taken issue with them but there were such obvious parallels between the 3 things I watched on the weekend that it felt like a natural thing to write about. I might post about the individual movies later.
The Walking Dead has 2 characters with amputations, Merle who had to cut off his hand to escape zombies and Herschel who had his foot cut off to prevent infection spreading after being bitten.
In Aftershock Ariel has his hand amputated by falling debris during an earthquake. Ariel is unique among the characters mentioned here in not surviving long enough to come to terms with his injury.
In World War Z Gerry cuts of Segen’s hand to prevent infection spreading from a bite (given that bitten people turn in 10-12 seconds in this story I can’t imagine he could have been quick enough unless he cut it off as the zombie was biting it!).
I’m not really bothered with these amputations, except for that they sometimes make little plot sense and are just there for shock factor. But I’d never noticed its prevalence as a theme before, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more amputations in future!
– new people die/good people make bad decisions under pressure.
In The Walking Dead (series 3) there are several instances of new groups of people being introduced and then quickly killed off. On entering the prison for the first time, a new group of characters is introduced. Rick kills one almost immediately and drives another off to die in the zombie infested prison. Unfortunately he doesn’t die and comes back to cause serious trouble for the group resulting in the deaths of 2 of the existing members. The remaining 2 join the gang only to be killed off (as a direct result of the psychotic “Governor”, see below) within a couple of episodes of each other. Another group of surviors is introduced at the prison in the meantime, one of whom gets bitten almost as soon as we see her and is dead by the end of the episode and the rest are driven off and alienated by Rick (that worked really well last time, I wonder who will get killed as a result this time).
In Aftershock, Our Heroes meet a smooth operator called Russel Dazzle in a nightclub. He is obviously known to several of the Heroes and chats with them and joins the group for drinks so he isn’t just a bystander or redshirt. He starts hitting on one of the girls and then 5 minutes later is dead under a massive chunk of masonry. Only a few minutes later they meet a cleaning lady who shows them a tunnel to escape the club. As they exit the tunnel she is struck by a passing truck, hurled back down into the tunnel and killed. Needless to say, the Heroes all exit the tunnel without being molested by traffic. Towards the end of the movie they meet a priest who hides them in the church from some Escaped Convicts Bent on Evil (see below) and shows them how to escape down a tunnel (deja vu much?). Seconds later he has plummeted to his death from a faulty ladder. Finally a new guy who they have picked up on the way turns out to be an Escaped Convict Bent on Evil (surprise? see below again) and gets killed by the only surviving member of the original group.
In World War Z, almost everyone who Gerry visits and speaks to ends up dead (I know that this is a pretty likely outcome for characters in an apocalypse film but this is quite gratuitous!):
After escaping to New Jersey Gerry and family find shelter in the apartment of some unnamed people. Literally the second they leave to be evacuated by chopper from the roof zombies smash into the apartment and (presumably) kill everyone but the kid
A mission to visit a military base in South Korea introduces a squad of marines and a doctor. The doctor and most of the marines are killed almost immediately upon landing
Another character is introduced at the South Korea base who is killed trying to refuel the plane as is the one remaining member of the original marine squad.
During Gerry’s visit to Israel to find out how they are so successful at keeping the zombies out, the zombies get in and (presumably) kill everyone
Escaping from Israel on a commandeered civilian plane (Gerry’s pilot has noticed that everyone around Gerry tends to die and decides to quit while he’s ahead), a zombie infection breaks out and Gerry blows a hole in the plane with a hand grenade killing almost all the remaining passengers and crew.
The resulting crash kills all the remaining passengers and crew apart from Gerry and the Israili soldier he has rescued/kidnapped. To keep things realistic(?) Gerry is injured but only just enough to make the audience wince.
The people at the W.H.O station in Wales and the US Navy battle group are about the only people Gerry meets upon whom he doesn’t bring down death and destruction. And his family of course. I might not have been paying absolute attention but I don’t think I saw a single child killed or injured in this film. That might make me seem a bit bloodthirsty but the film is obviously going all out on the unstoppable nature of this evil menace that doesn’t discriminate who it kills but all the kids survive!?
– Everyone is Bent on Evil
This is a very common theme in post apocalyptic films, the very second that the rule of law breaks down anything between 50 and 100% of the population (Our Heroes don’t count for the purposes of these stats) becomes Bent on Evil. Now I don’t mean doing what you have to do to survive in terms of stealing or looting food and water and defending your property and family form people who are truly Bent on Evil. Obviously people are going to use the lack of police response etc to loot shopping centres (as in WWZ) or steal f*cking big televisions (Aftershock) or drugs and baby formula (TWD). Obviously supplies in stores are going to run out and people are going to try to take what you have looted, possibly by force and you will have to defend yourself. These are all perfectly reasonable things to expect might happen after the fall of law and order.
What I’m talking about is the way that more or less everyone outside the Group of Heroes becomes some kind of blood thirsty psychotic driven only by a desire to rape and murder everyone they meet. This happens to greater or lesser extent in all three of the above.
In The Walking Dead most recently, the Governor has assaulted Maggie and seduced Andrea. Additionally, several of his men seem intent on killing and/or raping as much as they possibly can.
In After shock, the entire final act of the movie is centered around a group of escaped convicts (or 2 groups depending on how you look at it) who are intent on raping the girls and killing the men in our Group of Heroes. There is no real explanation of why they prefer these women over the thousands of others that must be available in Santiago de Chile. Anyway, they pursue our group until they catch some of them, kill one man and rape one girl (twice). When the rest of the group come to the rescue and kill one of the rapists, the gang kill the girl they raped and pursue the rest of the group, eventually killing the one remaining man of the group before becoming trapped and possibly killed by falling masonry in a church.
You’d think that would be the end of it but then a New Person who has been helping all of the Group of Heroes out at significant risk to himself reveals himself to also be an escaped prisoner and kills one of the remaining 2 girls and tries to kill the other. You could argue that he is doing this in “self defence” to prevent them from revealing his identity and going back to prison. But they could equally have come to an amicable arrangement. Given the way the film ultimately ends it wouldn’t matter either way.
Even in World War Z, in the New Jersey supermarket, Gerry turns his back for 5 minutes and finds 2 men grappling with his wife, in the middle of a crodwed store, trying to remove her clothes. When he tries to discourage them by shouting, they shoot at him and only desist when he kills one with his own gun. Surely, at this point, only hours after outbreak you could find more pressing matters to worry about than forcing yourself upon random women in a supermarket!
I find that there are 3 broad types of “Evil” in these stories:
1. The generally good guy who has to do horrible things to survive/protect his family etc
This is not really a category of evil but can lead to people progressing to category 2. Rick Grimes from early episodes of The Walking Dead fits into this category.
2. People who started off “normal” but become “Evil”
Due to the horrible experiences in whatever post apocalyptic wasteland they find themselves in, many people in these stories become depraved and Evil. Often characters will pass through type 1 before becoming type 2. This is often however just a thin veneer to make it look like the writers haven’t just plonked a type 3 character into the story just for the hell of it.
Rick Grimes in later episodes of The Walking Dead (season 3) fits into this category as possibly does The Governor although I feel he is more of a type 3.
3. People who are just plain psychotic and insane
The majority of writers seem to believe that the second that law and order starts to waver, most “normal” people leap at the opportunity to reveal their hidden psychotic side and go on sprees of evil acts that would make notorious serial killers blush. These characters have virtually no explanation in the plot for their actions and any explanation that is given tends to be perfunctory and easily dismissed. They fixate on whatever evil thing they have decided to do and persue it to the bitter end, often at great personal cost and totally unthinking of the cost to any of their associates or innocent bystanders. This type seems to be very common in post apocalypse dramas and often feel like they have been dropped in as an afterthought to make proceedings more intersting.
A prime example of this character type are all of the characters introduced in the last act of Aftershock. When we first meet them a group of youths are smashing their way into an electronics store and making off with widescreen TVs. Fair enough, a group of poorer people see an opportunity to help themselves to things they couldn’t normally afford and go for it. I wouldn’t do it, you probably wouldn’t do it but it is an understandable reaction. However a confrontation soon develops with the police and the gang burn at least one policeman to death before being distracted by some pretty girls. They immediately decide to disengage from the battle with police and persue the girls. When they catch up with the group they systematically kill the men and rape the girls before they are squished in an aftershock. The only explanation for their behaviour is the rather hastily presented information that some convicts have escaped from a prison.
Note: I know that the word “zombie” is shunned in both TWD and WWZ but that’s what they are and I can’t be bothered with using the various different terms when describing them 😉