Not to be confused with recent Christian Bale western, Hostiles, 2017 release Hostile is the latest post-apocalyptic thriller. Like zombie movies, it’s a subgenre that has ambitious filmmakers have been increasingly adopting 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 Purge franchise, adjust your expectations accordingly. Hostile is more It Comes At Night than Mad Max. To date, critics have offered the movie a lukewarm reception.
It’s the future and civilization has fallen. Something has wiped most of humanity from existence. Now survivors struggle to cobble together any sort of sustenance. And viscious mutated creatures stalk the wastelands. Following an accident, Juliette, a lone survivor, finds herself alone and trapped in her truck with a broken leg. But she’s not alone – one the wasteland’s mysterious stalkers has found her. Trapped, hurt, and alone, Juliette finds herself in a desperate battle to stay alive.
Hostile is Not Necessarily a Horror Film
Horror fans be forewarned – Hostile is not a straightforward horror movie. It’s less interested in scaring or grossing audiences out. With regards to story and tone, Hostile shares common ground with recent Netflix zombie movie, Cargo. Writer and director Mathieu Turi (Meandre) 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. To some extent, they do undercut some of the movie’s tension. Fortunately, Turi’s screenplay weaves a strong emotional theme through its past and present moments. The result – each flashback is integral to the climax’s payoff. Ultimately, Turi rewards patient audiences with economical yet emotional storytelling.
Hostile Wrings Out Maximum Tension From Limited Settings
Hostile may not be a pure horror movie, but its horror moments deliver. Trapping Juliette in a flipped truck with a broken leg creates a perfect claustrophobic setting. And Turi squeezes maximum tension of the situation. Immediately, there’s an urgency to Juliette’s plight. AS the movie progresses, 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. Specifically, Hostile’s scares organically develop from the story. Turi transforms a flipped 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 apocalyptic setting and creatures, Hostile adopts a “less is more” approach. Expect a few hints and nothing more. Turi is more interested in his characters and their relationship. The creature design is simple but effective. Most importantly, Hostile 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 flashback – filmed in bright, vibrant colours – find a happy Jack and Juliette’ just as the world starts to crumble. Comparatively, the present – with a notably absent Jack – is all washed out landscapes. 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. In the end, Hostile foregoes violence for a somber and bittersweet conclusion. Most importantly, Turi’s ending justifies all those flashbacks. For audiences who don’t mind a more meditative post-apocalyptic thriller, Hostile is a hidden gem.