For most of my life, well at least from my late teen years onward, I have been an ardent fan of independent films. I still greatly enjoy the mainstream movies that admittedly comprise much of my viewing time and a dominant portion of movies I review but there will always be a special place with me for a well-crafted Indy film. The filmmakers, crew and cast that generally give so much of their time, resources and passion to these projects represent the epitome of the form of artistic expression referred to as cinema. For more than a century these auteurs have simultaneously honed their skills and redefined the techniques and boundaries of movie making. Every so often an independent movie comes around that exerts a profound effect on film and reaches out to touch some aspect of our humanity that resides deep within us. A movie that most recently achieved such an effect on me was `Population: 2'; screenplay and direction by Gil Luna. In classic Indy tradition you will see his name cited numerous times in the credits including producer, editor and casting director. I would not be surprised if he also ran craft services dishing out meals and snacks between takes, the proliferation of the filmmaker's name in the credits are not a form of narcissism but a matter of necessity; these movies are created on a budget that would fail to cover the cost of office supplies in a bid budget extravaganza. The estimated cost of producing this work is about $100,000, modest by any industrial standards. A filmmaker going into a project like this is not anticipating a huge payday or substantial box office receipts. He is in it for the art of telling a story he is committed to relate to his audience. I am grateful I could be counted among the group that has experienced this film.
The story revisits an arguably over used theme in science fiction, the post-apocalyptic world. The title clearly defines the parameters of the circumstances that drive the story and serve as the foundation for the themes it explores. A calamity has befallen our planet wiping out humanity with the potential exception of two examples of Homo sapiens. The young woman who provides the primary narrative and vantage point for the viewer is Lilith (Suzanne Tufan). As those up on their apocryphal scriptures Lilith was the first woman, predecessor to Eve replaced for her refusal to submit to Adam's authority. The character of Lilith as portrayed here is by definition the ultimate survivor. The story unfolds through two lines of consciousness; Lilith's daily routine for survival and her memories, presented in flashbacks that relate her pre-catastrophe life and how the world came to past the tipping point to oblivion.
Our solitary heroine dons protective clothing as she ventures out into the ruins of what was once a thriving metropolis, Portland. Lilith rummages through the debris taking enough food and supplies to keep her alive another day. You get the distinct impression that she eschews stockpiling necessities; the daily outing is her one remaining connection to the world that is forever lost. Lilith acts more on impulse than overriding survival instinct. Her life consists of her nightly return to her shelter and her daily forages to the carcass of civilization. Despite the title Lilith seems to be the sole survivor of the tragedy; Trapped in a prison of her memories replaying life that seems impossibly distant. The population of two comes from the remains of the pre-holocaust young woman that had once been Lilith, opportunistic, cheerful and filled with vitality. Now she is a shell, a simulacrum of a human being reduced to going through the paces of living. There are other roles necessitated by the use of flashbacks critical to establishing the basis of the extinction event and the backstory necessary to presenting Lilith as a fully developed person. Through the exceptionally tightly scripted story and the amazing ability of Ms Tufan in her bifurcated performance as the two faces of Lilith the audience is treated to one of the most unique, intensely emotional and poignant character study you are ever going to come across. The depth of her portrayal and commitment to a realistic presentation of the same person before and after the most significant event in human history is incredible to watch. What is truly special about her performance are the little touches, facial expressions of movements that persist in both halves of her performance. It ties together her role as a subtle reminder that although the personalities of pre and post Lilith are understandably different this is still intrinsically the same young woman. The core that comprises Lilith somehow persist although circumstances have forced every outward manifestation of who Lilith is has been modified.
The portion of the film that takes place after the calamity is intriguing in its own right and could have easily held as a film albeit one that is highly reminiscent of a classic `Twilight Zone' Episode. What elevates this movie to the pinnacle of the innate purpose of independent film is the way Luna infuses the flashbacks to expand the themes and broaden the interest present in the movie. Years before the main timeline the world was on the verge of ecological disaster due to the effects of global warming. Technology invented by the OmniTech corporation offers to save the day with their `solar shield', a technology that will reflect the excessive solar rays back from the surface of the planet. Something goes horrible awry and the earth is plunging towards its doom. The long time public spokesperson for the corporation, Vincent Velo (Shelly Lipkin) appears on television to reassure the public everything is fine. To help sell this comforting façade Lilith's husband Simon (Jon Ashley Hall), is hired for spin control. As another thread in the tapestry there is a new pill called Pandora, from the pharmaceutical division of OmniTech, that takes care of pregnancies that happen at the `wrong time'. Unbeknownst to Lilith her pregnancy is covertly terminated when Simon slips a dose in her drink. Adding to the creepy global corporation vibe here is the pretty curly hair blonde that appears in the Pandora commercials. Choice is a recurring theme here, or more accurately the lack of choice under the illusion that choice exists. Pandora was marketed as the ultimate manifestation in the right to choose but that right was denied Lilith. On a broader scope the world was deluded, lied to that there was a choice that has been made to reverse the effects of the solar shield when all the time OmniTech has contingency plans to allow someone to survive.
Luna in conjunction with the director of photography Kenneth Luba, has created a visually stunning movie. The use of imagery from the golden glow pervading the Pandora advertisements to the bleak lighting and desolation of Lilith alone in a world that collapsed around her. in every shot the mood of the audience is guided by the visually imaginative nature of the movie. The story is emotionally charged not in the typical overused blatant manipulation but by quietly drawing the audience into the dire predicament of a woman beset by the worse possible events imaginable. This movie represents a nightmare not one of blood and gore but an ideal example of how a filmmaker can create horror using only the psychological manipulation of the audience. this haunting film will remain in your mind for a long time after the closing credits run.