Studio: Sony Pictures Home Ent.
Director: Mathieu Turi
Writer: Mathieu Turi
Producer: Hicham Hajji, Hamid Herraf, Olivier Chateau, Eric Gendarme, Thomas Lubeau
Stars: Brittany Ashworth, Gregory Fitoussi, Javier Botet, Jay Benedict, David Gasman, Laura D’Arista Adam, Carl Garrison, Mohamed Aroussi, Richard Meiman
A woman stranded in a post-apocalyptic desert reflects on her lost love while struggling to survive against a mutant creature.
Dramatic thriller “Hostile” unfolds over parallel plotlines. One takes place in the past. The other takes place in the present, which doubles as a post-apocalyptic near future.
Scavenging a desert ghost town for supplies, Juliet comes across a wounded man. The man warns that he trapped a “reaper,” a feral form of mutant making wasteland living even more dangerous, inside a broken down RV. Juliet does what remaining survivors always do in such a situation. She braces for a fierce fight and goes to gun down the creature.
On her drive back to camp, Juliet’s keepsake photograph of her lost love Jack unexpectedly flutters out the window. Juliet instinctively grabs at the paper picture, inadvertently swerving off an embankment and causing her vehicle to overturn.
While unconscious, Juliet recalls the first time she met Jack, beginning a Memory Lane journey through the highlights and lowlights of their rocky yet romantic relationship. When Juliet regains her senses, she finds herself trapped inside the wreckage with a broken leg. Worse, another reaper lurks outside with no apparent intention of leaving. Stranded and alone, Juliet must mentally revisit her past to summon the resilience now needed to outthink the monster and save her own life.
It’s easy to pick pieces out of the preceding description, e.g. post-apocalyptic wasteland, mutant creature, woman stranded alone, and guess that many of the tricks up the sleeve of this story are old hat. You wouldn’t be wrong. “Hostile” has its work cut out for it when it comes to winning favor from fed up filmgoers burned out on similar settings and setups.
Bouncing from a compact isolation chiller with a Mad Max backdrop to a grounded soap opera suitable for basic cable also presents a pacing challenge “Hostile” doesn’t always balance. Given their dramatically disparate tones, viewers may connect with one of the film’s concurrent halves while the other has a harder time arresting attention.
Part of that issue involves initially icy onscreen chemistry between main actors Brittany Ashworth and Gregory Fitoussi. The limited heat in Juliet and Jack’s romance rarely rises above room temperature. Tempo-stalling flashbacks focusing on the couple’s courtship are often dull. In particular, their meet-cute reads as forcefully aggressive. And Juliet’s problematic portrayal as an alienating junkie makes Jack’s ongoing fascination with her strangely unmotivated to say the least.
To clarify, Ashworth and Fitoussi, the latter of whom echoes a Michiel Huisman appeal, embody believability through their individual performances. It’s their time together that could use more sizzle to sell us on sympathizing.
“Hostile” understandably has only so many minutes to recap the entirety of Jack and Juliet’s arc. Yet the moments the script chooses for development frame their characters curiously, which doesn’t make them entirely endearing to an audience.
Even though “Hostile” hits bumps impeding immersion in its fiction, inventive craftsmanship enables it to be more easily appreciated as a movie. Writer/director Mathieu Turi works overtime to make a slim concept as cinematic as creatively possible considering all of the restrictive logistics working against the production.
Turi repeatedly comes up with clever camera movements to work around limitations. The first shot features the photo of Jack and Juliet sitting on Juliet’s dashboard. We hear Juliet frantically panting following a gunshot as the vehicle goes into motion, but we only see sunlight passing over the picture, distinctly directing our focus onto the most important aspect of this sequence.
Action in Juliet’s first fight with a reaper similarly remains unseen. The camera instead circles around the RV while bullet flashes light windows and broken blinds bust out glass. Evidenced again when only the reaper’s legs are visible as it stalks around Juliet’s overturned vehicle, “Hostile” takes attention away from its low budget by turning cost-cutting measures into innovative opportunities for storytelling.
The desert where “Hostile” filmed clearly isn’t conveniently located near an immediately accessible highway either. Cast and crew got down and dirty somewhere remote, with dirt-caked vehicles furthering the lived-in look adding remarkable visual value to a relatively sparse film. An inspired indie effort unmistakably stays on display here.
This effort goes an incredibly long way toward energizing areas where engagement starts waning. Editing quickens the rhythm of two slowed storylines by cutting each to complement fluctuations in the other’s speed. The camera’s constant fluidity additionally enriches momentum.
Sure, the conclusion may be predictably foreshadowed, but it’s still fittingly sincere to the atmosphere established. The creepy creature also morphs into a complete character that stands out as one of the most notable physical performances of Javier Botet’s genre career. Warts and all, when “Hostile” is examined as this whole picture from a distanced perspective, one can see how familiarity gets freshened by the captivating qualities of a passionate presentation.
Review Score: 75