The post-apocalyptic dystopian film is the gift that keeps on giving to the cinematic world. Regardless of genre – science-fiction, horror, action, or young adult – audiences can’t seem to get enough of end-of-the-world scenarios. Tomorrow film-goers can revel in the latest entry of dystopian Purge franchise, The First Purge. If you’re tired of Purge films, or can’t wait until tomorrow, recently released The Domestics should tide you over. Distributed by the revived Orion Classics, The Domestics promises a gritty post-apocalyptic road trip that looks equal parts Purge and Mad Max.
The Domestics is set in a near-future, following the release of an airborne black toxin by the U.S. government. While much of the American population is decimated, survivors divide into tribal factions battling for turf across the countryside. Residents who struggle to retain some semblance of normalcy are referred to as “Domestics”. Two domestics – Mark and Nina West – a married couple decide to hazard the trip across the American Midwest through gang territories to find Nina’s parents.
The Domestics Assembles Several Familiar Dystopian Tropes
Written and directed by Mark P. Nelson, The Domestics fuses its distinct midwestern landscape with post-apocalyptic tropes from several familiar films. Its basic narrative of protagonists forced to fight their way across the landscape most directly recalls Walter Hill’s cult classic, The Warriors. Perhaps as a homage, The Domestics even has its own unseen ‘radio DJ’ who serves as narrator, periodically chiming in with expository updates. Sadly, this DJ proves more annoying than the effortless cool exuded by The Warriors’ Lynne Thigpen.
…The Domestics fuses its distinct midwestern landscape with post-apocalyptic tropes from several familiar films.
Like The Warriors, and more recent post-apocalyptic fare like Doomsday, the various gangs have colourful names and outlandish costumes. From the man-hating ‘Cherries’ to ‘The Gamblers” each gang is given a simple trait that largely corresponds to their name and a cartoonish appearance that mimics the creepy aesthetics of the Purge films. The ‘Sheets’ literally wear ghost bedsheets like a demented Charlie Brown. The Plowboys use juiced up plows. Younger audiences will probably also see parallels between The Domestics and The Purge films. Aside from outlandish wardrobes, The Domestics is essentially a tale about how our laws and social institutions mask our most primal, violent urges.
Stylish Violence and Fun Action Setpieces
In spite of its slavish devotion to the more derivative elements of the post-apocalyptic subgenre, The Domestics still entertains with lean storytelling, stylish violence, and some well-executed moments of suspense. I’m not sure what the budget was for the film, but The Domestics does not look like a low-budget film by any means. Nelson has quite the eye for framing his violent action sequences. He also proves to be quite adept at drawing out tension. Mark and Nina’s layover in an abandoned house lead to a slickly choreographed moment of suspense with some nice misdirection. The climatic shootout mostly delivers on the film’s promise of over-the-top post-apocalyptic craziness; it would hold up well next to any larger budgeted action film.
…The Domestics still entertains with lean storytelling, stylish violence, and some well-executed moments of suspense.
Where The Domestics may draw some complaints from genre fans is that it almost doesn’t go far enough with its dystopian violence. Like its midwestern landscapes, The Domestics is almost a little banal when it’s held up to some other dystopian films. Nothing in here ever approaches the sheer lunacy of either Neil Marshall’s Doomsday or Mad Max: Fury Road. That’s not to say that The Domestics doesn’t deliver on its R-rating, it just doesn’t push any boundaries.
Surprising Emotional Core and Character Arc
Nelson’s screenplay offers a surprising amount of character development for the film’s central protagonists. Married couple, Nina and Mark, were planning on separating prior to America’s descent into ruin. As it turns, the apocalypse has forced the couple to stay together for survival. It’s this troubled relationship that allows The Domestics to distinguish itself from other post-apocalyptic films and gives the movie an emotional core. There’s also a refreshing air of optimism that emerges from the couple’s relationship.
Both lead performances give this emotional core the dramatic heft it requires. Tyler Hoechlin is fine as Mark, though he is given less to do as the film progresses. It’s Kate Bosworth who stands out as Nina, with her character given the much more interesting arc as she grows from helpless victim to hardened warrior. In a smaller role, Sonoya Mizuno’s silent Betsy is arguably the most interesting character in the film. A ‘Cherry’ and silent avenging angel, Betsy takes an interest in Nina that is never clearly articulated, but fascinating nonetheless. To be honest, I would have preferred if Nina and Betsy had run off together on their own adventures and left Mark behind.
The Domestics is Familiar But Fun Dystopian Fare
On the one hand, The Domestics is a derivative dystopian horror film. It misses on an opportunity to deliver some ‘bigger-picture’ commentary on the current American social landscape. That idea of American survivors divided into tribal factions presented a chance to remark on the divisive times in which we’re living. Instead The Domestics seemed more interested in telling a smaller story. In this regard, The Domestics is a fun, violent thriller that should satisfy most genre fans until The First Purge is released.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B