★★★ out of ★★★★★
A beautifully shot zombie-adjacent fable about nature, death, guilt, and self-determination.
Directed by Carolina Hellsgård
Calling EndZeit (2018) — also known by its English title, Ever After — a zombie movie would be a bit of a disservice to any hardcore zombie enthusiasts reading this review. There are zombies. They’re the fast kind à la 28 Days Later… (2002) as opposed to Romero’s lovable shufflers. But the zombie apocalypse in EndZeit plays more as a backdrop to the story than a huge plot point in and of itself. It’s the ever-present threat that keeps the characters on their toes.
When the movie starts, we’re dropped into the middle of things. It’s two years after the initial (and only vaguely explained) “infection” that turned a large segment of the German population into ravenous, chompy creatures. There are only two cities that survived. One is Weimar. They’ve taken an effective, if oppressive, approach to dealing with citizens who may be infected. The ol’ bullet to the brain pan treatment. The other surviving city, Jena, is just as walled off as Weimar, but they’ve taken a more compassionate approach and are searching for a cure to the plague.
EndZeit begins in Weimar where we meet anxious and afraid Vivi [Gro Swantje Kohlhof; Wir sind die Flut (2016)]. Living in the sanitarium, she’s stayed medicated as well as indoors since the plague began two years ago. Times are tough, though, so Vivi is volunteered to help the teams responsible for maintaining the city walls.
She ends up on the maintenance crew lead by Eva [Maja Lehrer; Wald (2017)] — a no-nonsense type who doesn’t have time for niceties. Vivi’s first day of wall maintenance is exceedingly traumatic. Safe to say, when your first day on a job ends up with someone getting their arm cut off and then shot in the head you can call that the Worst First Day Ever.
All of this trauma winds up being too much for Vivi’s delicate sensibilities so she decides to hotfoot it outta town. There’s a solar-powered unmanned cargo train that connects the two sister cities of Weimar and Jena and Vivi decides she’ll be its first passenger. Not its only passenger, as it turns out. Slightly cynical Eva has also stowed away on the train for reasons of her own. When the train breaks down a few miles outside of Middle Of Nowhere, Germany, the two women embark on a cross-country trek for survival.
EndZeit is writer Olivia Vieweg’s first writing credit and as such is a remarkable piece of storytelling. Couple that with the movie being the sophomore effort of director Carolina Hellsgård and you’ve got two obviously talented women at the beginning of their movie making careers. The budding friendship between Vivi and Eva is extremely well crafted; while at first it seems they have nothing in common the audience and the characters simultaneously discover that they have everything in common.
Both characters are running; one away from something and the other towards. Both are dealing with nearly crippling survivor’s guilt. Both feel isolated in society. The two women deal with these emotions in virtually polar opposite manners, but they eventually begin to see their commonalities and recognize each other’s strengths.
The reason EndZeit shouldn’t be considered a “traditional” zombie movie — though, by all means, it should be considered a bright spot in the genre — is due to the narrative shift along the way. What starts out as a zombie apocalypse survival film turns into the beginning of an eco-legend about the Earth reasserting balance on its inhabitants. This shift comes off as a bit clumsy at times, but ultimately gives the film more character and charm. Hippie mysticism, maybe.
The camera work in EndZeit is some of the best you’ll find in any zombie movie. Cinematographer Leah Striker, with her nearly 20 years working with cameras, draws out some absolutely gorgeous shots. Since they were filming in the countryside around the real German cities of Weimar and Jena, Striker had a leg up when it came to beautiful landscapes, but her ability to frame the actors in concert with the natural surroundings was a joy to behold.
Ultimately, EndZeit should be considered a “thinking person’s” zombie movie. Gore fest it definitely is not. It’s a very deliberate, but engaging, narrative revolving around two young women finding their way in life. Plus zombies. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a stellar outing for filmmakers of this experience level and worth watching for the camera work alone. If you get a chance, give this one a go.
EndZeit is available for streaming via Shudder and can be pre-ordered on DVD.
Review by Robert Zilbauer.