2016 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – EMBERS
EMBERS is one of the more ambitious original science fiction films that I’ve seen in awhile. It’s full of ideas, it’s well acted, and it is visually impressive, both in terms of composition and in terms of art direction. This film is good evidence of the value of a good location scout. It’s the debut film of director Claire Carré and I’d be surprised if this is the last we hear of her.
EMBERS is the story of an apocalyptic future where a disease has wiped out mankind’s ability to remember much of anything, except deep ingrained things like language. We’re far enough along that the world has fallen into ruin, the film smartly uses abandoned and dilapidated structures on the verge of collapse to tell us everything we need to know about the state of the world without having to say anything. Through this ruin of a world, five stories are told. A couple will wake up in the morning to as strangers and rediscover why they love each other, there’s a bit of Richard Linklater’s BEFORE movies here. A daughter locked up in quarantine with her father grows frustrated with the fact that all they are doing is remembering the past without living life or creating new memories. A brilliant scientist tries to record the events of what is happening to him. A boy wanders the landscape in search of family. A brute of a man, whether from nature or ingrained trauma, wanders the landscape victimizing and being victimized.
EMBERS isn’t a particularly plot driven movie. Instead it’s a film interested in exploring ideas such as “Are memories alone worth anything if the life you’re living now is stagnant?”, “Can love or chemistry transcend memory?”, “How much of what makes us individuals is ingrained beyond memory?”, “Is it sometimes better to forget?”, and “How important is memory anyways?”
Ultimately the various vignettes of the film don’t offer any real answers and the film remains somewhat fractured with no grand statement to sum it up. It’s a series of what I think are interesting questions and observations, which is perhaps all you can do with a subject as grand as the nature of memory. EMBERS also lacks the genre hook of something like MEMENTO to give itself shape and structure, but rather just ends. It won’t be to everyone’s taste due to its nature, but I never found myself bored or uninterested in the scenarios it was exploring and I was often thrilled by the filmmaking talent on display. EMBERS is an original, thoughtful, and beautiful film that deserves to find an audience.
It’s a little surprising to see EMBERS as part of the midnight movies of the Milwaukee Film Festival’s Cinema Hooligante program. When you think midnight movie, usually the science fiction is merely an excuse for action and bloodshed in as wild a manner as possible. This quiet, contemplative little film which asks the audience to think is perhaps a bit out of step with the program category that it is in, but I’m pretty thrilled that the Milwaukee Film Festival found room for it. It’s exactly the kind of thoughtful science fiction that has become increasingly rare from Hollywood, albeit it never was all that common. It’s a bold choice by the selection committee and I hope they’re rewarded for their choice. Not every apocalypse movie needs zombies.
EMBERS will screen one more time at the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival on Saturday, October 1 at midnight at the Downer Theatre. Tickets are on sale now at the Milwaukee Film Festival’s website and at various box office locations.