Taking its title from the German word for bright (though the English meaning is just as apt), Hell imagines a truly hellish post-apocalyptic world where, 4 years from now, Europe has become a scorched wasteland after a 10 degree Celsius rise in temperature, forcing ordinary people to fight for survival as the dwindling supplies of food, petrol and precious water rapidly run out.
Driving across country in a beat-up Volvo that they’ve made virtually lightproof, by blacking out the windows a la Near Dark, sisters Marie (Hannah Herzsprung) and Leonie (Lisa Vicari) and Marie’s boyfriend Phillip (Lars Eldinger) are heading for the Bavarian Alps in the vain hope that there’s still water and food up in the mountains where it’s colder.
While scavenging for supplies at an abandoned petrol station they encounter resourceful drifter Tom (Stipe Erceg) who first robs them before forging an uneasy alliance with the group. When the group are ambushed and Leonie is carried off by a bunch of cannibals, Marie will stop at nothing to save her sister.
Drawing as much on movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Frontier(s) as it does on the likes of The Road, Hell is a satisfyingly dark, bleak vision of a world that has quite literally gone to Hell. The script is lean and spare, creating a convincing world while the protagonists aren’t gun-toting survivalists, leather-clad road warriors or martial experts but normal people forced to go to extreme lengths to survive and not always doing the right thing. The violence is fast and effective while barely showing anything but the sombre desolate mood and gritty atmosphere convince you that you’ve seen far worse. Hell feels like a violent film. The eye-squinting, bleached out look of the film’s daytime scenes contrasts sharply with the darker, shadowy night scenes and interiors which reflects the inner turmoil and motives of the characters. This is a world where danger is everywhere, morality is fluid and ethics won’t keep you alive. The cannibal matriarch who tries to seduce Marie into joining her group may be the bad guy but she’s not inherently evil. She’s a pragmatist trying to do the best for her family, to protect them, just as Marie is trying to protect her sister.
The performances are good with Hannah Herzsprung making a solid, believable heroine forced ultimately to rely on herself and Stipe Erceg’s Tom is a nicely ambiguous hero. Dominating the latter scenes of the film however is ‘70s arthouse favourite Angela Winkler as the cannibal matriarch, a woman who watched her farm and her life fall apart as society crumbled and raises a very different type of livestock for the cooking pot.
How much you like Hell may depend on how much appetite you have for human misery, even its final scenes inspire as much ambiguity as hope, but it’s an effective, harrowing little film. Stark, powerful and haunting, Hell is an uncompromising vision of the end of the world.
Tim Fehlbaum, Oliver Kahl & Thomas Wobke
Hannah Herzsprung, Stipe Erceg, Lars Eldinger, Lisa Vicari, Angela Winkler, Christoph Gaugker
1 hour 30 minutes