JWR Articles: Film/DVD - 20 Years After (Director: Jim Torres) - February 26, 2009
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20 Years After

3 3
95 min.

Re-birth of a nation

For his take on the world after nuclear apocalypse, director co-writer Jim Torres (along with Anthony Balch and Ron Harris whose play Like Moles, Like Rats preceded the film) shows how the South might appear two decades after the inferno. Other visions tend to view the wreckage and havoc closer to the time of the horrific destruction (cross-references below).

In this brave dead world, the narrative is driven by a rare event: Sara (Azura Skye, perhaps a tad too well-coiffed to fit the desperate action) is pregnant and wants nothing else than to deliver her baby not in a basement, nor a cave but in the open, “I don’t want to hide anymore.”

But for the precious few survivors, the perils of freedom are overwhelming: airborne disease, thieving marauders, deadly snipers and baby snatchers leave most of the remaining inhabitants happy to live in the ground and wait for death. Everyone’s lost friends and family. Sara’s husband, brutally shot; her father and brother, David (Nathan Baesal savours his evil role even as the script requires him to back down and flee at a critical moment) both missing and presumed dead.

Michael-on-the-radio (Joshua Leonard) broadcasts reflectively about his altered life between some country charts (notably “Stars Fell on Alabama”) to a largely unknown audience. When some of his fans come to visit, he soon acquiesces to a demand to help them out and search for another faintly heard solitary DJ (Phil Parker).

The film struggles to find its rhythm as the back-story unfolds but suddenly gets a welcome boost with the arrival of Dr. Samuel Singleton. Reg Cathey easily takes away the acting honours with his magical rendition of a philosophical ventriloquist whose knowledge of the darker side of the world and its storied beginnings (including a beautifully woven tale—and William Sweikart’s deft cinematography—of how sunlight first came to Mother Earth) propel the production with marvellous purpose that is never recovered once his major work is done.

Lurking in the narrative weeds is Ms. Mynard (Shannon Eubanks) a kind of Wicked Witch of the South who lusts after the soon-to-be-born child and pines for her glory days as a cover girl. Son Janus (Charlie Talbert) plays the monster role with lumbering ease if only the near-incestuous, gender-blurred relationships had more time to develop, giving a further emotional dimension to the too-often bland characterization. Thanks to the original score (John Heitzenrater and Chris Johnson—from twangy banjo to lamenting violin), those slower moments manage slip by agreeably.

Torres, his talented cast and crew display enough well-crafted, engaging scenes that a future project is eagerly awaited. JWR

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