Sunday, November 27, 2016

Population: 2 (2012)

Director: Gil Luna                                       Writers: Gil Luna & Jonathan Stark
Film Score: Edouard Brenneisen                     Cinematography: Kenneth Luba
Starring: Suzanne Tufan, Jon Ashley Hall, Shelly Lipkin and Meredith Adelaide

Small, independent films tend to be character driven, modern day dramas simply because they’re easier to film. So for any filmmaker, independent or not, to take on a work of science-fiction it has to be a daunting task. How much more so, then, for someone without studio funding? That’s what initially led me to Gil Luna’s Population: 2, and while there are certainly some challenging aspects of the film, what he was able to accomplish with the limited budget he had is fairly impressive. Of course the film has been lambasted online for it’s obvious deficiencies, but it’s the easiest thing in the world to criticize low-budge filmmakers for not being able to create something that’s up to Hollywood standards. But the fact remains that there are degrees of artlessness in film. On one end you have people like Michael Bay, who squander millions of dollars and ultimately wind up with artless tripe. And on the other end are talented filmmakers who don’t have choices, who are hemmed in by low budgets into taking whatever they can get in terms of cast and crew. Gil Luna is clearly one of the later, and yet managed to create a believable post-apocalyptic universe and a story that explains how it became that way, all seen through the eyes of a very compelling character and a talented actress to bring her to life.

The film begins in the cockpit of a bomber, the pilot and his navigator heading for a target that they are set to reach in twelve minutes. The conversation between the two indicates that they are friends and that while they’ve trained for this mission, this is the first time the mission is real. This is followed by a quote from John F. Kennedy about man’s potential to destroy themselves with nuclear weapons. An image of a satellite above the earth is seen next, amid lots of chatter, one voice among them saying that, “a pregnant woman, that baby will not remain alive.” Then Barry Wilde is seen in a video from Seattle touting a mirror-based system that reflects sunlight out into space to deal with global warming. Finally, Suzanne Tufan is heard in voice over--with Olivia Klinetobe playing Tufan as a child, running through a field--talking about how innocent her childhood was in assuming the permanence of everything around her. Later, in adulthood, the bombs take it all away. Thus, by the time the opening credits roll, the three threads of the narrative--however vaguely--have been shown to the viewer. There is the pilot and his partner who will deliver the first of the bombs that will end life on earth, Tufan’s life with her husband before the bombs, and her life alone afterward. This last thread is hinted at during the titles, with scratches in the wall to indicate days, and accompanied by an absolutely beautiful piece of music composed by Edouard Brenneisen who provides an impressive score overall.

After another episode with the pilot, a group of media spots are shown. The first is an advertisement for an abortion pill featuring Meredith Adelaide, then two opposing viewpoints on two different programs cut together that discuss the faulty engineering of the reflective technology put in place to combat climate change--a project that was completely corporate controlled and so the people and the government can’t interfere. From there, the film cuts to a depopulated Portland, Oregon. Heading down into the basement of what looks to be an empty factory, a Hazmat outfitted Suzanne Tufan comes home after her daily search for food. Tired and dirty, she lays down on her makeshift bed to sleep the darkness away. From the pilot continuing to close in, the scene then fades in on Tufan before the bombs. Her husband, Jon Ashley Hall, works for the company and is being coerced into telling the public that everything is fine. As long as he does what the company wants, if things don’t improve and chaos ensues he and his wife will have a spot in some protective bunker owned by the corporation. The three threads alternate throughout the film, as Tufan gradually learns what the cost of being one of the chosen few is--and it’s far from an easy decision to make. Meanwhile her life afterward is a constant struggle for food and water. And all the while the bomber is getting closer and closer to its target.

The first thing that must be said about the film is that Suzanne Tufan is tremendous. All of her sequences alone are heart-rending. Without her, what little positive feedback the film has would be non-existent. She is incredibly believable, both in her scenes of isolation as well as the pre-war drama. But she’s also assisted by some solid supporting actors as well. Shelly Lipkin is particularly good as the CEO of the corporation, and while Jon Ashley Hall’s performance is a little too studied he’s certainly no worse than many Hollywood actors. The other impressive feature of the film is the art direction by Janet Beeson. To be able to create a realistically de-populated city for Tufan to travel through is what ultimately makes the film. Computer graphics will only get a production so far, and the use of them on the jet plane sequences is probably the weak point of the film. And it’s not that the visual effects aren’t good, but in contrast to the set design they do seem very artificial. At the same time, removing those scenes would only have diminished the film, as they provide an important counterpoint to the rest of the story. So it’s difficult to understand some of the severely negative criticism the film has engendered online. The film is as much a social issue piece as it is science-fiction, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and while it’s not the best post-apocalyptic film ever made, it certainly has a lot to recommend it. I’ve seen plenty of bad films in my day, and Population: 2 isn’t one of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment