Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Def-Con 4 (1985)
The 80s saw the decline and fall of the Soviet Bloc, and lagging a couple of years behind that, the decline and fall of the nuclear apocalypse film. For my money, these films have always been more entertaining when they forsake realistic depictions of worldwide nuclear war (short form: it's bad), and instead embrace wacky post-apocalyptic societies, mutants, and the like. This is why films like America 3000 and Hell Comes to Frogtown will always have a soft spot in my heart, despite not being very good in a technical sense (the latter movie actually came in a pack with this one. Alas, I have already watched it, so you don't get a review). And movies like Threads, which I am glad I saw at an intellectual level, and was 'better' than those others by most metrics, simply isn't something I'd like to revisit too often.
Def-Con 4, a Canadian addition to the nuclear apocalypse family, doesn't seem to quite know where it wants to fit on the grim-to-goofy paradigm, and the film suffers because of it. The opening half hour or so is - hokey effects aside - a pretty solid effort at a realistic portrayal. Then things get goofier, but don't seem to realise that they have. There are mutants (only a few months after the nukes went off), the strangest earth moving / armored vehicle I've ever seen, and a teenage despot who still wears his school blazer. The film, however, neither embraces the silly or does anything to make these strange things macabre and unsettling. They're just ... there. And the struggles of the protagonists are also more or less 'just there', making it hard to care over much what happens to them.
It's a shame the movie couldn't find and stick to a tone, as the acting is all decent enough and the basic elements could have been forged into something schockily entertaining, or bleakly unsettling. Instead, we just get something vaguely dull.