Tim Fehlbaum marks his feature helming debut with “Hell,” a tightly crafted post-apocalyptic survival tale that makes up in conviction what it lacks in originality. The story of a quartet battling marauders while searching for water on a parched Earth of the near-future makes nods to “Planet of the Apes,” “Mad Max,” “Deliverance” and scores of other pics, but Fehlbaum doesn’t claim to have reinvented the wheel. Instead, he’s crafted a solid genre pic that will have strong legs in German-lingo territories and a guaranteed presence in latenight fest spots, satcasts and ancillary.
It’s 2016, and the world is a desiccated wasteland following a massive spike in global warming. Those who survive are either resourceful or violent, and sometimes both. Marie (Hannah Herzsprung), her younger sis Leonie (Lisa Vicari) and b.f. Phillip (Lars Eidinger) are in a sun-shielded car heading to the mountains in hopes of finding water. At a ruined gas station, they have a tense standoff with the wiry Tom (Stipe Erceg) before settling into a wary peace when they realize he’s clever and practical.
When Leonie is kidnapped at a roadblock, Marie and Tom set out to rescue her, but Phillip reveals his cowardly nature. The group is splintered, with Marie increasingly desperate until she meets Elisabeth (Angela Winkler), an older farmer who appears to offer succor in the wilderness. Unsurprisingly, however, her farm isn’t quite the haven Marie believed.
Fehlbaum shot some scenes in a burned-out forest in Corsica and others in a Bavarian woodland devastated by infestation, and apart from turning the sky a blinding white, he needed very little f/x to achieve the right look. Tension is always in the air, and while most genre-savvy auds will know when to expect the surprises, the anticipation will appeal to those primed for this sort of material. In addition, Fehlbaum and his co-scripters thankfully have a sense of humor, though a bit more wouldn’t have gone amiss.
The actors are all game, and give their roles the right amount of conviction. A slightly nervous camera maintains the appropriate sense of apprehension, together with rapid editing in climactic moments. Visuals are stripped of color, suitably ashen for a sun-bleached world.