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August 11, 2018

‘What Still Remains’ Review: People, Unfortunately

Out of the apocalyptic fire and into the frying pan cult.

Movies about post-apocalyptic life are so ubiquitous that some of us are going to be well-prepared for when the big one finally hits. There are numerous lessons to learn if you hope to survive, but the number one most important comes down to a very simple takeaway. Don’t trust anyone. What Still Remains once again stresses the importance of heeding that simple suggestion with its equally simple take on what comes next after the end of the world.

Anna (Lulu Antariksa) has never known a normal life before “the Change” but has instead lived simply in the woods with her mother and brother. She’s left alone, though, when her mom dies and brother disappears — she loses track of him one day while on the run from ravagers known as Berserkers — and while she carries on fine on her own she’s both terrified and relieved when she crosses paths with a stranger nearby. Peter (Colin O’Donoghue) comes in peace and shares Anna’s faith in God, and he suggests she might want to return with him to his village. Community, safety, and the comfort of good, god-fearing folks is what he promises, and she quickly agrees.

She discovers too late that there are some strings attached to joining her new “family,” and since they take her knife away she couldn’t even cut them if she wanted to. And she most definitely wants to. The event that ended the world as we know it is long past, but the struggle to survive continues.

Writer/director Josh Mendoza‘s feature debut treads some very familiar ground, but while What Still Remains lacks a certain freshness it delivers a well-acted drama all the same. The story never really surprises or thrills, although it’s arguably not trying for either effect, and instead is content as a coming of age drama about staying true to yourself and avoiding conformity for the simple sake of it.

Antariksa does good work and convinces as a young woman who’s fully able to care for herself while still being someone in need of human contact. More recognizable faces arrive back at the camp with village elders played by Mimi Rogers and Jeff Kober. Both veterans quickly convince viewers that their characters fully believe they’re in the right… and that they’re every bit as dangerous as the wild men roving the woods.

That introduces one of the film’s two most interesting aspects. There’s a spoken concern about “the Changed” who are those infected and affected by the illness that ended the world, but this story is so far removed from the event itself — two decades at least — that they’re not even the real threat anymore. Instead, it’s the Berserkers who are the more obvious obstacle, and as Anna discovers the more religious-minded survivors are every bit as dangerous. The virus (or whatever it was) took its share of victims, but those who remain suggest the real problem is humanity itself.

The only people she’s known have left in fairly quick succession, and while she’s cautious about Peter at first she’s ultimately moved forward through a shared faith. It’s another interesting take as the film walks a fine line showing both the importance and dangers of faith’s impact on the choices we make. It gives her and others a false assurance that eventually collapses before them, and ultimately, Anna learns that the most important and necessary faith is the one she has in herself.

The script moves Anna a bit too quickly into league with these strangers even as it leans a bit too obviously that they’re bad news, but once she’s in their grip she grows to find her own voice and strength. The result is less of a post-apocalyptic thriller and more of a character drama answering the implied question of the title. We still remain.

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