What's Left of Us Review
Despite being pitched as a post-apocalyptic zombie flick (yes, another one), Christoph Behl's What's Left of Us proves to be nothing of the sort. Largely shorn of any zombie presence or threat and set exclusively in the confines of a small, secure tenement building, the complexity and fragility of human relationships are brought to the fore in the face of the collapse of the civilised world and the chaos that ensues.
The initial shot of Ana (Victoria Almeida) coolly and dispassionately taking out an encroaching zombie with a rifle might raise expectations that this will be the customary tale of an embattled community under siege, fighting desperately to survive. However any such preconceptions are gradually eroded as we follow the humdrum daily routine of Ana living hand in glove with partner Jonathan (William Prociuk) and Axel (Lautaro Delgado), the trio of survivors each seeking some form of diversion from the tedium of the quotidian and the quiet contemplation of their fate. Such conditions do not make for a happy home life and it is clear that the surface calm conceals deep-seated personal conflicts and unresolved tensions within this curious ménage à trois. Attempts to combat the growing malaise - primarily through recurring games, notably Truth or Dare - far from breaking the monotony and releasing tension, descend into mini power struggles and petty games of one-upmanship, making for an uneasy detente largely predicated on the strained relations between Ana and the withdrawn, taciturn Axel.
Amongst all this emotional upheaval what is most striking is that the level of threat from the assumed zombie hordes is practically negligible. Indeed such is the lack of menace posed by the living dead that when Jonathan and Axel capture one and bring it back to the apartment the argument that ensues with Ana as to whether to keep it descends into a bickering session which casts the zombie (Lucas Lagre) as more of an unwanted house guest than a deadly threat. As any sense of unity begins to disintegrate this vacant, unfeeling presence proves a welcome respite from the group dynamic providing a muse ('Pythagoras') for Ana and a punchbag for Axel. Only Jonathan remains indifferent to Pythagoras, his acceptance of the status quo in stark contrast to that of Ana and Axel who increasingly look for something of meaning, retreating more frequently into a Big Brother-style diary room to confess their most intimate and personal thoughts to camera, some of which are initially viewed surreptitiously and later shared willingly.
Happy with his lot, Jonathan absents himself from this exercise, immune as he is to his flatmates' shared trauma over the prospect of a long and pointless life devoid of purpose. Instead Jonathan actively seeks to maintain the balance of relations to protect the integrity of the group even to the exclusion of other survivors, in one instance warding off one such interloper with rifle fire. At the centre of this struggle is the character of Ana and Jonathan recognises that the breakdown in her relationship with Axel has disrupted the delicate balance of the 'family' unit. In one conversation with Axel, Jonathan talks of Ana in terms of conquest whereby her body is a territory to be coveted by both men - with each claiming sovereignty over that part which he favours most.
What Jonathan advocates is not a conflict demanding one man's victory over the other but the mutual benefit of a shared dominion. However his practical plans collapse under the weight of the emotional turmoil unfolding around him which merely serves to betray the inherent futility in the struggle to form meaningful relationships in the absence of hope or purpose. A game of Risk articulates this discord - reflecting the confused, incestuous nature of their existence and the increasing fracturing of the group - Jonathan is keen to substitute new rules for old which he argues are no longer valid, but neither Ana nor Axel are convinced and remain resistant to the idea. Rejecting Jonathan's attempts to recast their domestic arrangements as a new design for life, his flatmates view their circumstances as moribund seeking personal transformation as the only genuine means of escape.
To pigeonhole What's Left of Us within the sub-genre of zombie horror would be extremely limiting and somewhat disingenuous. Whilst it shares the same manner of claustrophobic oppressiveness and customary human antagonisms which serve to undermine efforts to survive and thrive, it proves to be barely on nodding terms with the more graphic elements of that particular canon. There are no explosions of violence here, tension simmers but is rarely given a voice, and conflict reaches its climax not in dramatic set pieces and exploding viscera but silence, separation and, at its most visible, subdued tears. In that sense it does exhibit horrific elements but these reside in the realm of the psychological or existential in what is essentially an interesting and thoughtful human drama channelling the eternal staples of love, sex, death and the meaning of life.
What's Left of Us is presented on DVD in a ratio of 1.77:1. The image has a washed out quality ranging between murky and bleached, although this would appear to represent a faithful reproduction of the source material. The single audio option is a Spanish DD2.0 track which handles dialogue and other audio effects adequately. English subtitles are included (burned in).
No extras are available on this release.