Review of REFUGE, a post-apocalyptic horror movie without zombies

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When we take away all the pop culture surrounding zombies, the most frightening aspects of a zombie apocalypse scenario are applicable in any extreme survival situation. That’s what’s unique about indie post-apocalyptic movie REFUGE, directed by Andrew Robertson. It takes the zombies out of a familiar setup, allowing us to focus on the psychological journey of the characters without the distractions of hoards and gore.

We’re introduced to the family at the heart of the story quickly, a handful of a few remaining survivors when most of humanity is wiped out by a deadly virus. The setup is established effectively with news clippings and footage in the opening – but once the scene is set we see the characters trying to regain some sense of normality when the harshness of their conditions are evident. It’s a beautifully acted film, with the bonds of the characters and the gruelling backdrop evident in the sombre performances. Much of the focus is on how such desperation impacts upon the psyche, and how an individuals morals and values are altered to a more animalistic state. This is evidenced in some very unlikeable characters who resemble Alex from A Clockwork Orange in many ways – they act not just on animalistic survival, but on animalistic pleasure seeking. REFUGE continually asks its its audience what it means to loose one’s humanity.

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Visually, the tone is set really well. There’s a greyish look to the film that communicates death, decay and isolation. It employs a variety of camera styles, all of which contribute to the overall effect. There’s some shaky-cam, but it’s used carefully with scenic wide shots and intensely emotional close ups.

The score for REFUGE is provided by Carbon Based Lifeforms, highlights the stillness and lifelessness of the post apocalyptic world perfectly. There’s no loud jump scares here, the soundtrack is an entirely more subtly affair which compliments the ambiance of the film as a whole. There’s also the addition of unsettling white noise and timbres that project a ghostly, otherworldly feel.

REFUGE is a film that holds tension until the end, and has it’s audience develop a genuine connection to the plight of it’s characters. This is a hard enough feat for lengthy, and bigger budget movies, but it’s running time of just over an hour and minutes work’s to its advantage here. But perhaps the highest praise we can give REFUGE is it’s effectiveness in presenting the most unforgiving aspects of society collapsing. When the zombies are stripped away, we realise that the search for food, water, medication, first aid, transport are all more harsh elements of post-apocalyptic survival – and that our need for them is what ultimately turns us from human to animal.