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20 Years After

MTI // R // October 7, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 5, 2008 | E-mail the Author
Seeing the achievements that filmmakers concoct with lower budgets can be a treat, which was the primary reason why I was energetic going into the nickel-and-dime budgeted 20 Years After. Quickly after the start, however, the energy seeped straight from its post-apocalyptic narrative. There were inkling, urgings even, to start liking the flick for its vagueness and character concentration; it turns out that this lack of focus renders a bland and unenergetic experience instead of one latched onto controlled vibrancy.

The Film:

Delving into the plot doesn't exactly involve rocket science. Essentially, we're dropped in the middle of nowhere 20 years following an apocalyptic terrorist event that obliterated the face of the world -- leaving it similar to a Road Warrior type of universe, only more down to earth. Characters refer to the fact that it seems dangerous on the surface, even going so far as to imply that it might have monstrous properties. The film segments into two groups: one is a mother / daughter duo holed up in a house -- daughter, named Sara (Azura Skye, One Missed Call), as pregnant as can be in a world where babies apparently don't survive -- while the other focuses on one of the few remaining radio personalities left on this desolate world, named Michael (Joshua Leonard, Blair Witch Project). After two members of an outside cluster of survivors make the "dangerous" trip to come and ask them to join in their community, each group sets out on a dangerous journey towards this place of safety.

That's an adequate amount of juice to pump the first fifteen or so minutes of 20 Years After with enough intrigue to follow its two groups of characters from Point A to Point B -- which can be understood considering that it's an adaptation of a play entitled "Like Moles, Like Rats". Performances range from bearable to nerve-grinding as personality can be found in Azura Skye's Sara and the "ventriloquist" Doctor Samuel, covered well by fantastic character actor Reg E. Cathey of Se7en and The Mask recognition. The rest of the characters, including a sinister turnout from as a jilted bride turned lunatic villain from Shannon Eubanks, work well enough with the flow of the story without cooking up much in the line of character gravitas. 20 Years After's style seems engineered for stage-like performances, which hinder the potency of a more sprawling and open world here.

In a film with such a simple story, it's got to push back with two elements: electric performances, and a smooth, intriguing script. The dialogue works for a while in Jim Torres' film, letting little historical facts about the ways of this apocalyptic world seep into interactions between strangers, but the series of bland events makes connecting conversation after conversation an exercise in strained annoyance. It rustles up some special effects concocted on a minimal budget, including one aptly-assembled firefight sequence, but this charm doesn't come close to filling out the meandering runtime. Now that doesn't mean Torres' film should go the way of marketable "sci-fi adventure" craziness, like Neil Marshall's Doomsday, but it does need to at least drag out the spices from the cabinet to give it a little bit of energy.

Lacking much core activity in an unexplained apocalyptic world -- one that doesn't seen nearly as dangerous as these characters kept trying to emphasize -- makes 20 Years After absolutely drag along to the finish line. Sure, I understand the fact that the director Jim Torres wanted to create a simple universe that would allow more for character interaction and escalating drama in a pseudo-"Children of Men" focus regarding Sara's pregnancy, but it neglects its simple, dusty concept often enough to suck out any immediacy. I'd be interested to see more theatrical performances in a stage version of the story, but in motion-picture form this encapsulated narrative stirs little more than a creative spark at the beginning that never fully ignites within 20 Years After.

The DVD:

MTI Home Entertainment has sent over this "Preview" disc for our evaluation, though it seems more like a theatrical screening unit instead of an actual home video product. Don't be confused by the coverart: you see very little of a full-blown dilapidated city, and even less -- none -- of a pregnant Sara wielding a shotgun.

The Video:

Muddy, grainy, and fuzzy across most of the picture, this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks a little rough -- though, the source material probably claims these limitations on the transfer. Colors looked fine, while the architecture / set design spill over well enough for viewing. Detail can also be made out at several points in the film, like against woodgrains, rock structures, and chain-linked elevators. Out of nowhere, there are these heavy-contrast scenes that bring out richness in detail and clarity -- shots that I wish were used more frequently or, at least, applied in moderation across all shots in the film. At most points, alternately, it's not a terribly attractive transfer, especially considering the fact that the photography looks a lot sharper on the film's website at

The Audio:

Though I don't know whether 20 Years After had a full surround mix implemented at any point, this Dolby 2.0 surround track doesn't suffer terribly in the process. Vocal clarity is generally strong, though waning a little bit while it's fighting with the nicely-implemented soundtrack. It's a fine, serviceable effort that supports the music and lines of dialogue well enough. No subtitle options have been made available.

The Extras:

Only a Trailer has been made available on this disc.


Final Thoughts:

A Rental at best to see a few of the stronger performances, 20 Years After fails to fully utilize the charm of low-budget science fiction. Instead it opts for a more dramatic, theatrical type of poise that seems more fitted for stage work than as a motion picture. Something in the Mad Max universe -- or Marshall's Doomsday in an action sense and Children of Men for a dramatic take -- will satisfy moviegoers much more than this lackluster effort to bring them all together.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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