Thanks to the kind folks at QuietEarth.us, I was able to catch a screener of TERMINUS (2015), an apocalyptic film that surprised me.
Things are pretty bleak in America. The country is bogged down fighting in Iran, the government is about to institute a draft, and China and Russia are saber-rattling. Meanwhile, America’s economy is collapsing, and people are out of work and starving.
The film starts with a conscientious and hardworking small-town mechanic, David, who is told the auto shop is closing. His daughter Annabelle comes home from college because he couldn’t afford the tuition. His wife died some time ago due to cancer, leaving him hollowed out. He drinks at a local dive bar, where he defends an Iran veteran, an amputee named Zach, in a fight. David has been ground down by life and is depressed about it, while Zach has been brutalized by war and is angry.
When things couldn’t get any worse for David, he takes a drive that night and crashes his car after seeing the sudden fiery descent of a meteor. Waking up in the wreckage, he staggers to the impact site and encounters a strange artifact. An artifact that seems to be alive. An artifact that heals his wounds and gives him a mission.
Joined by Zach, who is also touched by the artifact, David begins to build a giant steel object in an abandoned workshop. Annabelle wonders if he’s lost his mind. She wants him to focus on how they’re going to survive. But David knows humanity is heading toward a horrifying catastrophe. The TV is on in the background in many scenes, showing devastation and war. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, Zach protests the draft with fellow veterans, and they get treated like criminals by the police and as traitors by a townsman. No matter how bad things are getting in the country, it stubbornly remains the same.
While all this is happening, agents from the National Science Agency are also tracking the alien life form. Their leader sees it as a way for America to bring the war to an end, imagining a way to harness its regenerative powers to heal wounded soldiers. With that prize in mind, he’ll do anything to get it, even if ultimately it’s all pointless. Their confrontation, the catastrophe, the revelation of the object’s purpose all bring the film to a satisfying conclusion.
Highly realistic and somewhat minimalist, TERMINUS is very low key in its delivery, but the strong characters, the mystery of the object David and Zach are building, and the closing menace of the NSA agents drive the movie, which never flags. David is hardly charismatic, though Jai Koutrae plays the part with quiet and fierce determination. America is in the midst of collapse, but it’s a slow, painful death, more sad than sensational. People still drive cars and have furnished homes, but these things are slowly turning to trash, and people are losing their grip on them as the economy spirals the toilet. This is a story about a small ray of hope set in a country that’s largely lost it.
Good stuff! Check it out if you’re looking for something different in an indie apocalyptic film.