Two sibling helmers who dub themselves the Taylan brothers take a big step forward with their sophomore outing, “The Little Apocalypse,” a nifty psychothriller set during the Aug. 17, 1999, Istanbul earthquake. As in their 2004 debut, high school horror movie “School,” filmers show a liking for U.S. genre movies but remain totally true to the story’s local setting, with an especially strong perf by actress Basak Koklukaya (known from Ferzan Ozpetek’s “Hamam” and “Harem Suare”). Pic would make an offbeat entry for fantasy fests and midnight slots.
Perhaps because of still-raw memories of the ’99 quake, which killed some 1,000 people, and auds’ reservations about what is basically a genre movie made around the event, pic took an OK but not earth-shaking 350,000 admissions on release last December. However, this won’t be a problem for foreign viewers, and in no way does the movie exploit the tragedy (which forms only a small part of the psychodrama).
Bilge (Koklukaya) and her civil engineer husband, Zeki (Cansel Elcin), are a well-off couple with a young daughter, Eda (Serra Gurgunlu); a baby son; and a nanny, Filiz (Binnur Kaya). In the morning, they’re due to drive to a rented villa in Fethiye, in the southwest, for a long overdue summer vacation with Bilge’s niece, Didem (Ece Eksi), and nephew, Batu (Bora Akkas).
During the night, an earthquake strikes the city — simply but effectively rendered from protags’ p.o.v. — but everyone is seen to survive. The next day, with Bilge especially shell-shocked, they head south.
Film gradually starts accreting a sense of unease. From hints here and there, it looks as if Zeki may have a mistress, and Bilge certainly suspects it. And when they arrive at the beautifully sited villa, it turns out to be next to a graveyard, plagued with mosquitoes and prey to the attentions of nocturnal wolves.
Worse, the locals are leery, the beach suspiciously empty and the caretaker, Ali (Ilker Aksum), distinctly offhand. Bilge starts having claustrophobic nightmares, plus visions of her mom (who died seven years ago in a quake in Izmir), and Batu finds the graveyard’s headstones have their names on them.
Shot in vivid, cool colors, pic has a real movie feel and calibrates its drama with some skill, even though auds have been here a thousand times before. Natch, following genre rules, the family doesn’t just leave the first day. A final big twist, staged with real aplomb, doesn’t make much logical sense but is effective all the same.
Production values are fine, with one striking visual effect when Eda is supposedly in peril on the beach. Perfs are pro, with Koklukaya making a charismatic mom-in-peril. U.S.-born, Turkish-based rock musician Kevin Moore (“School”) contributes an atmospheric score.
Title refers to the name of a severe earthquake that ravaged Istanbul in 1509, and by extension refers to “the moment before death.”