Kristjan Thor’s Astraea is the kind of post-apocalyptic film that will find it hard to stick with an audience. Bravely, though not surprisingly, the film is entirely void of the usual suspects: there are no zombies, robots, critters, aliens, or nuclear freaks to populate the sparse world of Astraea, but that’s ok. In a world where zombies and post-apocalyptic narratives are a dime a dozen, it’s nice to see a stripped-back story entirely about humans where the threat is, essentially, being lonely.
An unheralded catastrophe called “The Drop” has decimated the world’s population turning the planet into one giant ghost town. Astraea (Nerea Duhart) and her older brother Mathew (Scotty Crowe) journey day and night to Novia Scotia in search of their family but find something else in the form of survivors Callie (Jessica Cummings) and James (Dan O’Brien).
Astraea is to be commended for its stark portrayal of life after the “apocalypse”, and the thematic relationship between the event and how characters deal with it. In Thor’s world it makes sense for the characters to be emotional, internal, and most of all lonely, because the apocalypse came in such a sad whimpering way. The psychos of zombie films are produced by the horror of that particular situation in the same way Astraea’s pacing and character dilemma’s all feed into an exploration of apocalypse without blame or antagonist. Thor’s film explores types of people and how they live together with varying aims and goals, removing violence, for the most part, to really allow us entry into the quiet and desolate world of a splintered family.
Thor and scriptwriter Ashlin Halfnight have crafted, if anything, a believable family drama which happens to revolve around some unseen disaster. The brief moments of horror induced by corpses never quite live up to the full wallop of high drama confrontation. Astraea could be seen as a parable on sibling support after the divorce of parents, building up such dependency between Astraea and Mathew so that newfound romantic entanglements and friends become potential betrayals.
This kind of story is a slow one when measured against the rest of the Dead by Dawn roster, which put it in its arguably worst position but still it remained a generally pleasing, if inevitably strained film. Astraea suffers from a problem that sinks many Indy films: its lackadaisical rumination on the human heart paired with a subdued palate, and flaccid voice-over can come across as the laziest and most pretentious way to make a film seem cinematic. Thor achieves much with a basic script and lots of wide angle shots, but after a certain point, Astraea is, like its title and voice-over, over-wrought.
An impressive character drama led by terrific performances, especially Nerea Duhart, and emotionally invested storytelling, Astraea is effective but disappointingly dispensable.
Dir. Kristjan Thor
Stars: Nerea Duhart, Scotty Crowe, Jessica Cummings, Dan O’Brien