Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.
I’m not sure but I think the title Hell (Netflix) is a play on the famous quote from Sartre’s No Exit, “Hell is other people.” I can’t be sure for a few reasons: 1) Hell is a German movie and who knows how Sartre’s original French would translate and 2) if that is the joke, it’s based on an pretty common failure to understand what that line means. Lemme ‘splain.
Post-apocalyptic scenarios generally start off with a great premise but most (awesome movies like The Road being the exception) sooner or later fall back on the cliche that people who have lost all sense of right and wrong are the real threat. The actual cause of the apocalypse (zombies, plague, whatever) becomes merely a backdrop for the true horror show of humanity. This drives me absolutely bonkers. While people can be certainly be shitheads, I can find examples of that in any movie. I watch end-of-the-world movies to get pointers on surviving a nuclear war or a global pandemic, not to watch people being tormented by their deranged neighbors. I see that out my window every day.
Hell walks that well traveled route, though mercifully it does so tastefully, never forgetting the reason everyone came to see the show, much in the vein of a 28 Days Later. It begins by telling us that inexplicable solar storms have increased the earth’s temperature by 10 degrees, pretty much turning the entire planet into a scorched wasteland. Hellish conditions, but not unmanageable as we soon learn. At least until the true bad guys show up, with their stealing and kidnapping and god knows what else. Hell, therefore, is not scalding UV rays that burn your skin off your body the moment you step outside. No. It’s farmers who have run out of livestock to eat and women to marry. Or possibly the reverse.
So sure, maybe it’s clever to call this movie Hell, since “other people” are the greatest danger our heroes face. But it’s only clever only if one doesn’t bother to take a freshman lit class or, you know, read the No Exit Wikipedia page. See, that line just means the worst thing is to have your identity consumed by the perceptions of another, as if you’re a side character in someone else’s play and they get to define what it means to be you. I don’t see how that fits in, but who knows? Because German.
Added Bonus: Compare this movie to the slightly earlier French film Frontiers, which on the surface is somewhat similar. In both movies a group of young people flee a desperate reality only to be captured by a band of murderous weirdos. What separates the two is that Frontiers is an unnecessarily complicated mess, complete with Nazis, inbred monsters, kung fu and totalitarian regimes, while Hell is straightforward and can actually be followed when not tripping on enormous quantities of acid. And yet everyone and their inbred monster brother seemed to think Frontiers was some hot shit, but I haven’t heard a word about the vastly superior Hell in the two years since it was released. Granted, there are markedly fewer fountains of human viscera in Hell so maybe that explains it. Ironic!