Not to be confused with recent Christian Bale western, Hostiles, 2017 release Hostile is the latest post-apocalyptic thriller. Like zombie films, It’s a subgenre that has been increasingly adopted by ambitious filmmakers to attempt uniquely allegorical storytelling. But audiences should be forewarned. If you’re expecting a hyper-violent, off-the-wall story in the vein of The Domestics, adjust your expectations accordingly. Hostile is more It Comes At Night than Mad Max. To date, critics have offered the movie a lukewarm reception.
Hostile is set in an unspecified dystopian future where most of humanity has been wiped from existence. Survivors struggle to cobble together any sustenance while keeping a vigilant watch for mutated creatures that prowl the post-apocalyptic wastelands. Juliette, a lone survivor, finds herself alone and trapped in her truck with a broken leg following an accident. Stalked by one of these mysterious creatures, she finds herself in a desperate battle to stay alive while she waits for help.
Hostile is Not Necessarily a Horror Film
Horror fans be forewarned – Hostile is not a straightforward horror film intent on scaring or grossing audiences out. With regards to story and tone, Hostile shares common ground with Netflix zombie film, Cargo. Writer and director Mathieu Turi has made a drama about human relationships that includes horror elements.
…Turi’s screenplay weaves a unique and strong emotional theme through its past and present moments that serve to make each flashback integral to the climax’s payoff.
Much of the success of Hostile then is contingent upon how successfully Turi balances drama with the horror. Hostile alternates from Juliette’s present dilemma to her past relationship with boyfriend Jack prior to the apocalypse. Initially, audiences may get a little frustrated with the flashbacks as they undercut some of the film’s tension. Fortunately, Turi’s screenplay weaves a strong emotional theme through its past and present moments that make each flashback integral to the climax’s payoff. Patient audiences will be rewarded by Turi’s economical yet emotional storytelling.
Hostile Wrings Out Maximum Tension From Limited Settings
Hostile may not be a pure horror film, but its horror moments deliver. Trapping Juliette in a flipped truck with a broken leg creates a perfect claustrophobic setting. Turi uses this situation to squeeze out maximum tension. There’s an urgency to Juliette’s plight and Turi builds on this feeling to give the movie a suspenseful hook. Turi also stages a few effective jump scares that do not betray the movie’s serious tone. That is, Hostile’s scares organically develop from the story. Turi transforms a flipped over truck with several windows and two doors into a near perfect doorway to scares.
Violence is used sparingly but to great effect with excellent make-up effects.
As for the film’s apocalypse and strange monsters, Hostiles offers only potential hints. Turi is more interested in his characters and their relationship. The creature design is simple but effective. Most importantly, Hostiles keeps its monster partially hidden in the shadows for much of the film. Early appearances are limited to mangled hands creeping out from behind or as a shadowy outline emerging in the background. Turi uses violence sparingly, but to great effect with excellent make-up effects.
Hostile’s True Strength Is In Its Characters and Performances
The crux of Hostile lies in its two main characters – Juliette and Jack – and their relationship. Past flashbacks, which are filmed in bright, vibrant colours, show Jack and Juliette’s relationship from its beginning to what appears to be the ‘beginning of the end’ for humanity. The present scenes, with a notably absent Jack are filmed in washed out colours. Jack is an upscale French art dealer; Juliette is a hardened drug addict and survivor. Both Gregory Fitoussi and Brittany Ashworth, as Jack and Juliette respectively, deliver convincing performances. In particular Ashworth impresses as a hardened survivor nearing the end of her personal endurance.
It’s these characters and the performances that will keep audiences watching through the awkward narrative structure. Turi spends a little too much spinning his wheels in the flashback scenes. Even with a trim running time, Jack and Juliette’s relationship doesn’t have enough substance to carry so much of the movie.
A Surprisingly Moving Climax Ties Everything Together
In spite of its slightly clunky story structure, Hostile delivers tense post-apocalyptic fare in a beautifully photographed film. Turi’s focus on characters and their relationships benefits from a uniquely emotional climax that foregoes violence theatrics in place of a somber and bittersweet conclusion. Most importantly, Turi’s ending justifies the time spent with the flashbacks. For audiences who don’t mind a more meditative post-apocalyptic thriller, Hostile may prove to be a hidden gem.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-