Released in 2013 in its native Argentina under the title El Desierto (The Desert), the feature film debut of German writer/director Christoph Behl is a sombre affair, the ticking of the days in the enclosed space of shadow and resentment as the burning sun bleaches the empty streets outside, while inside possibly the last survivors remain trapped in a private hell built for three.
The particular details of the apocalypse are never addressed, but it is zombie in nature; they walk in the day but apparently only attack at night, growling and roaring in the doorway locked and barred, remaining largely unseen. Instead the focus of the film is on Ana (Victoria Almeida), Jonathan (William Prociuk) and Axel (Lautaro Delgado).
With only the three of them left, possibly in in the whole world, they can’t afford to be honest with each other; if the truths they’ve hidden and the lies they’ve told came out, it would be the end of them. For that reason it was Ana who came up with the idea of making their confessions in private, recording their words on camera and dropping the tapes into a locked chest to create an archive of their lives, preserving themselves in a time capsule.
Cataloguing things gives Ana a sense of order, of continuity, even if she can’t replicate normality. Jonathan was an engineer, and Ana dislikes him for his lack of passion but it is he who looks for solutions to the problems of their situation. Forced to exist in close proximity to the two lovers, Axel is the outsider who insists that Jonathan tattoo him all over, his way of counting the days, marking the hours; when his body is completely covered, he will leave them.
If Dead Set was Big Brother for the living dead generation, this is the diary room, a series of testimonials which break up the longeurs of the trio playing Battleship and Risk to pass the time, but inevitably tempers fray. Ana is aware that Axel watches her and resents both his attention and that the laidback Jonathan shows little concern.
Aware that they are living a tragedy, Ana has taken to giving the zombies they kill Greek names, Medea, Hades, Dionysus, but boys will be boys, and a game of truth or dare leads to Jonathan and Axel bringing a pet zombie (Lucas Lagre) into their home whom Ana names Pythagoras. With the three of them already caught in a triangle which cannot be resolved, despite having two men fighting over her if Ana hadn’t been the last girl in the world it’s likely neither of them would have bothered.
With water the only limited resource, the supply of food and electricity never once addressed, beyond the claustrophobia there’s insufficient tension present in the film and certainly no urgency, dysfunction being a poor substitute for a real and immediate threat. The worst that can be said of them is that they are selfish rather than psychotic, even the twitchy Axel, apparently the most unstable of the trio, channeling his frustration into self destructive behaviour rather than anything which would resemble an advancing plot.
With the crest of the overcrowded zombie wave long past, even without the two year delay which has left it a very tardy hanger on this would have felt tired, a dull post-apocalyptic flatshare hangover neither sufficiently bohemian to engage with its quirkiness nor nihilistic enough to reinvigorate the saturated zeitgeist of dread. Neither as ambitious as The Quiet Earth which it superficially resembles nor as inventive as Cuba’s undead rampage Juan de los Muertos, the answer to the question of What’s Left of Us is precious little of note.