DreadWorld Review: Refuge (2013/16)

The post-apocalyptic thriller is a horror sub-genre that has generally gone underutilized by film makers. Most of the time it's enveloped by a large more encompassing sub-genre. Whether it's Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" which used it's vampire like creatures as a post-apocalyptic masking, or something like the seemingly omni-present "The Walking Dead" where the apocalypse is coached as a zombie story, pure post-apocalypse has historically been hard to come by. While Michael Crichton introduced a biological danger that might result in the apocalypse, Stephen King took it one step further with his epic "The Stand" in which the biological agent is a tool used by the Devil to bring about the post-apocalyptic wold in order to force a confrontation between the forces of good and evil.

In Refuge, Andrew Robertson's vision on the biological post-apocalypse, all of Kings religions mumbo jumbo and "The Walking Dead's" zombie crutch are stripped away. What is left in the aftermath of Robertson's biological disaster is a society simply looking for survival. Robertson uses one family as a filter, distilling the world as a whole down to three individuals and how they each effect (and affect) each other and the choices they make.

Robertson (and co-writer Lilly Kanso) give us minimal backstory as to what led the world down it's destructive path. All that matters is that it was biological, and no one was able to deal with it before the planet was plunged into it's current state. After meeting some nefarious marauders, Robertson introduces us to Jack (Carter Roy), Nell (Amy Rutberg), and Birdie (Eva Grace Kellner), a father wife and daughter in their proverbial "refuge" which serves as a harsh juxtaposition to the cold brutality happening outside it's walls. While Jack tries to keep the family safe, Nell tries to maintain some sort of normalcy for Birdie, trying to act as teacher, mother, and friend. They are joined by Kyle (Chris Kies) and later by Russell (Sebastian Beacon) who Jack brings back to the house, finding him with a broken leg after he was tossed from his dirt bike. The five survivors don't remain safe for very long however, as different groups of ravagers begin to target their sanctuary forcing them to hit the open road hoping to find some semblance safety.

In many ways Refuge does feel very familiar. It's got many of the same beats you might find in some of the "wandering" episodes of "The Walking Dead." Dangers about starting fires, stagnation, noises off on the edge of the campsite - all are here in spades. But unlike many of the other similar post-apocalyptic thrillers out there, in Refuge those tired tropes don't feel tired. In fact most of the time they feel fresh and very necessary.

They feel fresh because Robertson and Kanso have created characters that we actually care about. With the exception of one, none of these characters are set up to be cannon fodder. Each one feels like they could, and in fact should, survive the film. So when they are actually in danger it means something. One of the biggest gripes I have with many of these types of stories (I'm lumping film and television together here) is that most seasoned horror fans can pick out who is going to die by the end of the first act. In Refuge, Robertson and Kanso never resort to adding ancillary characters just to up the kill count. The five that we have are essentially the only five that matter, so when something happens to them it means something.

While Robertson and Kanso may have written memorable characters, it's the films cast that really brings them alive. It would have been so easy for Roy's "Jack" to fall into Rick Grimes parody territory. Instead, Roy is able to give the character more life and a struggle to balance responsibility with survival than "The Walking Dead" has ever given Rick. But it's Rutberg who stands as the films anchor and compass. Even when the film shifts from her attempts to preserve some sort of normalcy to her families struggle for survival outside of their "refuge" and her character becomes secondary, Rutberg, keeps the film grounded.

Now, if you are the type of person who watches horror for the gore and blood, Refuge may not be the film for you. While there is some blood, especially in the final confrontation, it's not a film that's particularly concerned about grossing anyone out or making the pages of say, Fangoria.

What Refuge is though, is a tight (75 minutes) film that feels like a realistic snapshot of what normal peoples lives would be in the wake of a biological disaster. It is extremely well written, well acted and has a hell of a score to boot. If you like personal horror films that focus more on the dangers of everyday life rather than the amount of blood a film maker can spray across a set or maximizing a films kill count, then take a 75 minutes and revel in the excellent Refuge. The film is currently available on VOD via all the usual film streaming services.

**** 1/2 stars out of *****

That's it for me. As always thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich"

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