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Ever Since the World Ended
Ever Since the World Ended

Directed by Calum Grant and Joshua Atesh Litle

This is an independent movie about the survivors rebuilding life in the San Francisco area. It is a well-written and haunting story. While it posits a plague as the agent of TEotWaWKI, the lessons and outcomes are universal.

The Generational Gap

Every time someone else's parent starts telling me about the past, they start crying. That's bullshit. I don't wanna hear your sob stories, I've been living with them. It's almost like you adults are the kids now. They want it the way it was. I think it's a bunch of fucking adults who are still strung out on the idea of what the world used to be. Personally, it's over, if you ask me.

With each passing year, the percentage of people with no memory of Before increases. This is bound to have a serious impact on society. When the last of us are gone, the end of the world will be just another story in the history books.

Justice

Who's going to give up their time to watch this guy?

Exile now seems to make sense, not like the vague concept it was Before. With so few people left, jail guard duty is a waste, a huge opportunity cost. The demand for the death penalty is stronger now.

No Leeway for Bad Luck

It seems more real than it ever did before, more vivid. Before in the world there was so much going on that you were bathed in noise and constant input. There are so few people left that when someone dies, they really die, the silence is that much more profound. But you're used to it.

In this story, someone dies of an infected gunshot wound to the leg, mention is made of a burst appendix. The little shit can get you now. With so few of us left, each is a serious loss. This is why I have such misgivings about the death penalty.

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Carriers
Carriers

directed by David Pastor and Alex Pastor.

This movie somehow slipped beneath my radar. I only just caught it on NetFlix. How can this be? It's a great example of behavior during an end of the world event; in this case, a world ravaged by disease. We join the story after the initial catastrophe and follow four characters during the aftermath. What we witness is a good reason why you should focus on the basics before the poop hits the fan.

Why survive?

When you could meet your demise each day, you stop thinking about the long term. Merely surviving becomes the goal rather than a means to achieve one. You don't want to make it to the promised land only to look around and ask, "What do I do now?" Why do you want to survive?

A survival goal is intensely personal. It could be a desire to make the world a better place for all or just for your children, or even to find a peaceful home where you can indulge in your love for books. Only you can pass judgement on your goal. Is it something for which you're willing to struggle mightily over a potentially lengthy period of time?

What are you willing do or not do?

This is the end of the world. You're going to be in situations completely unlike those you faced before. You're not going to resolve issues by email or scheduling a meeting. Violence may very well be on the agenda. What are you going to do?

As with goals, what means you find acceptable is a personal decision. I'm not going to tell you that you should be able to kill another human being or abandon people that could negatively impact your chances of survival. What I'm telling you is to decide what's on the table ahead of time.

You don't want to make these decisions in a critical situation. If killing another human being is off the table, that's OK. The ability to act immediately in a critical situation based on this prior understanding could be enough to save your life.

Find like-minded companions

These are personal decisions, but they should be discussed openly among your party. Everyone should be roughly on the same page. Radically divergent goals and acceptable means will lead either to the break up of the party or disaster in an encounter with hostiles.

How not to do it.

SPOILER ALERT!

The party we follow in Carriers got it all wrong:

  • They had their rules about interacting with the infected, but one would not abide by them. The rules were so strict that when she herself became infected, she hid that fact.
  • Their rules dictated that they kick out infected members. Seems logical, but not so easy to implement when it gets down to it.
  • The party had a goal, but in the end it seemed hardly worth the price the remaining members had paid.

This is a must see. The heartrending decisions are just the kind of thing you need to consider while you're not under pressure to do so.

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Frozen Movie Poster
Frozen

directed by Adam Green

What a humdinger of a movie this is. My expectations were low: obviously low budget, a no-name cast and some of the special effects were, well, not so special, but, DAMN, it told a great story.

The premise is simple. Three kids talk their way onto a ski lift for one last run, only to get stuck aloft with no hope of rescue for days since the resort is closed during the week. This is another one of those little TEotWaWKIs of which I wrote recently. They were so focused on getting one more go at the slopes that they lost track of what was truly at stake. They had plenty of warning. The operator told them a storm was coming. The lifts were obviously empty for quite some time. And one of them was a beginner. Ah, but kids always think they're invincible.

The movie also raises another issue to consider. What if your only apparent option is one that involves a serious chance of death? Do you wait as long as possible to see if any other opportunities arise? But what if your energy is waning? The longer you wait, the less likely you'll succeed. This is a tough call and harkens back to our discussion of time scale in my review of the TV show After Armageddon. If you're 100% certain rescue will come in the morning, you'll wait, but what if you're wrong?

Do watch this movie. It will scare the crap out of you. Make sure you're bundled up, though, the story seeps into bones like a deep chill. And don't be the last one on the lift.

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Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead

Directed by Edgar White

I'll be straight up with you: I hate zombie comedies. It's not just because they're overwhelmingly stupid, but they have no redeeming value. They're usually just a vehicle for idiot frat-boys doing things to unrealistically portrayed undead. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that today's teen-age male population would be wiped out should we have another widespread outbreak given that they probably believe everything they see in those movies.

Let me be clear: Shaun of the Dead is NOT one of those movies!

Yes, it is a comedy. It is hysterical on many levels, not the least of which is the realistic portrayal of how folks typically reacted to the fact that their world is overrun with the undead. But don't let the hilarity fool you. Beneath it lies good advice and excellent examples of how to act (or not) in a catastrophe. Allow me to use the format described in The Unthinkable to describe the movie.

Denial: I'm not talking about those who were thrown into a mental shut down by their inability to cope with the concept of the walking dead, though this was a majority of the deniers and, indeed, several characters in the movie. I'm thinking of people like myself who went on blithely with their lives despite what was happening. Is my behavior any different than Shaun's? He stumbled to the store in a hungover stupor, while I boarded a plane to New York for business. Both of us could have seen the news or even the stumbling corpses in our streets, but didn't connect the dots. It's not really denial, but rather blindness on our parts. Good thing it didn't kill us.

Deliberation: It sounds so simple, let's make a plan and execute it! As the movie shows, it rarely worked out that way. What are your objectives? How best can you achieve them? It's one thing if you're acting alone (which I was in many cases), but the complexity increases geometrically with the size of your group. This is how groups fall apart AND coalesce. I liked how, in the movie, various groups kept encountering each other, exchanging information. Since the period covered in the film was just the first few days of the outbreak, people were inclined to help each other. It would have been interesting to see how the interactions would have turned out if their crisis lasted longer. They may not have been so friendly.

The Decisive Act: What this movie clearly demonstrates is that you cannot judge how someone might behave in a crisis based on their everyday, pre-SHTF behavior. Let's face it, Shaun was a loser. However, when it came to it, he stepped up. I'd've been proud to number him in my group.

I just offed my mum, don't ask me to do my friend.

There's only so much one can take. Shaun proved more able than most, but he still had his limits. That just proves he retained his humanity.

This is an entertaining movie worth watching purely for it's artistic merit. The fact that it ably demonstrates how a good group should act is just icing on the cake.

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The Road directed by John Hillcoat
The Road directed by John Hillcoat

directed by John Hillcoat

As I mentioned before, I feel so strongly about Cormac McCarthy's story that I feared a movie version could do nothing but bring it down. That would have been an atrocity. It is this fear that kept me out of the theater for so long. To my great relief, though, I am happy to report that this is a movie I gladly recommend to anyone, regardless of their interest in the end of times subject.

Mr. Hillcoat takes just enough liberties with the story to keep it fresh for those who have read the book, but not so much that he subverts its meaning. Most of the scenes are there, but the order is slightly jumbled. There is a lot more dialogue than in the book (Bill, how can you tell without the quotation marks? Shut up, you!). He flirted several times with taking the story in a different direction such that it kept me tense, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was thinking that given the nature of the setting, an approach used in Beowolf or 300 might be best, but while the special effects were spot on, it was the acting of Viggo Mortensen that makes the movie. That man was born to play the role of the father.

Given the number of times I've read the book, I was surprised to gain a new insight into the story: The catastrophe had been going on for nearly a decade! I think actually seeing the boy brought this home for me, from his birth through to the age of what I guess to be nearly ten years. Think about that. Ten years of nothing but constant and ever worsening struggle. I don't think I could have done it. This is why the boy is so important to the story. He gives meaning to survival, the reason for the father to keep fighting. Without the boy, it truly would have been pointless.

This gets to the point of survival. I believe those whose had their children by their side at the outbreak were more likely to survive. True, in the short term, they were disadvantaged: their movement was encumbered; extra food was required, but little work could be expected in return; and, the constant fear of what may happen. But that made you fight hard, gave you a reason for going on. The Road is ultimately an optimistic story because of this. Because as long as the flame survives, there is hope.

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Alas, sources have told me that at least one thing hasn't changed since pre-SHTF times: Publishers shun those who write negative reviews. At first I was outraged. How dare they infringe upon my free speech! But I realize I am not prevented from saying anything, there's just some consequences to what I might say. Despite this, I will not change what I say, but I might be more careful how I say it.

Going forward, I will make these changes:

  1. I'm ditching the star based system. Upon reconsideration, it is at best superfluous. At worst, it prejudices the readers' conclusions. Truly, I don't want you to buy (or not buy) a book based on how I feel about it. I hope that I provide enough information in even a bad review for you to determine whether or not you might like it on your own terms. If I haven't done that, then I have failed.
  2. I will be clearer in the delineation of fact and opinion. This applies to the positive as well as negative. I will still ding a writer for factual mistakes and poor writing, but I will be more circumspect when it comes to differences of opinion.
  3. I will not rule out bad reviews, but since I cannot review everything I read or watch, I will focus on those that I think will be particularly useful to the readers of this blog. Lest you feel you can no longer trust what I say, or rather not say, I have set up a Twitter account (TEotWaWKIDiary) where I will list what I have seen, read or played. Just give me 2-3 weeks before you infer anything from a lack of a review.

I admit that this has taken some wind out of my sails. It depresses me, but I must remember that publishing is a business. It make money by producing stuff people buy. Whether it is great art or not is almost coincidental.

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2012
2012

Directed by Roland Emmerich

The ratings I assign should reflect the quality of the TEotWaWKI survival advice, not the movie itself. This is difficult when a good movie steers you wrong, like 28 Days / Weeks Later, or a poorly written book chock full of excellent tips. For the movie 2012, though, I have no such difficulties. This is truly a bad movie unredeemed by any useful pointers. It's not really the director's fault. The end of the world event is so catastrophic that there's nothing you can do, despite the implausible ending of this story.

The movie is bad on so many different levels. You have nearly every cliché present. You have implausible action after implausible action. I mean, truly, how many times do we have to see an air plane find the only safe flight path by flying under something improbable? And to top it all off, it was way too long. John Cusack must answer for this. How can an actor of such quality associate himself with this crap?

If you're a teenage boy or you have nothing else to do and don't mind wasting money, then I suppose you should see this. It does have some astounding special effects, even if they do defy your ability to suspend disbelief. Just remember, if we are faced with an astronomical event of this magnitude, the only thing you can do is make peace with your God and then throw one hell of a party.

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28 Days Later
28 Days Later

28 Weeks Later
28 Weeks Later

Days directed by Danny Boyle, Weeks directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

A very important lesson was learned during these movies, but not by someone who was watching them nor for anything specific about the content. I beat the living crap out of the Anderson's boy. We had to take him to the hospital. His father came after me with a gun to even the score, but once he learned what happened, believed the boy got off light. Let me explain.

I'm watching the opening scene of the second movie (28 Weeks Later), utterly filled with terror. The movie making is so good, I feel like I'm there. I've had more than my fair share of encounters with the undead, but the thought that they could run so fast caused me to panic. I wasn't in that room, watching that movie. I couldn't suck in enough air, I got a stitch in my side as if I, too, were running from the infected.

It was at that point that Jacky decided to jump out and scare me. Next thing I know, Javi is pulling me off him. I had grabbed a lamp and was pummeling the boy with it. I feel terrible for what I did, but, dude, that was wrong. He's lucky I didn't have a gun at hand.

That's how good these movies are. You should watch them.

The premise of this story line is that a virus causes the infected to become consumed with a mindless rage, a desire to destroy the uninfected. The initial outbreak seems to occur in London and spreads from there. The first movie, Days, follows a bicycle messenger who wakes up from a coma weeks after the outbreak. He has no idea what happened. The second movie, Weeks, covers the period just before containment of the initial outbreak to its re-emergence. I like the fact that the two movies do not share any characters and that there is a slight overlap in the time period they cover. They come across as independent efforts.

Again, these are a must see. Just be mindful of the lessons you absorb.

First of all, this is not just a fictional story, but that world compares to ours as apples to oranges. I mentioned the sprinting zombies (OK, I realize they are not undead, but, effectively, they are the same), but the rate of infection is just as speedy: within seconds, a healthy human becomes a raging maniac. This requires a completely different mind set. In that world, there can be no room for doubt. True, outbreaks did and still do occur in our world. However, now that we're aware of how to deal with them and have procedures in place to do so, we are extremely unlikely to have another one as serious as the first. Besides, we don't have the resources to deal with the level of effort required to ensure that every single human is free of infection at all times. That would have a seriously negative impact on our quality of life.

Secondly, many characters had a rather blasé attitude towards security, even for our standards. In Days, they camp in the outdoors, with no protection from marauding infected. Sure, they set up watches, but still, you need four walls to be sure of a good night's sleep. And in the final scenes of that movie, at the fortified estate, the military unit certainly didn't practice light and noise discipline. I hardly think the undead would attack piece meal over the course of weeks. Everyone of them within sight and sound range would have made a bee line to the place. And don't get me going on the medical containment security in Weeks.

Selena in 28 Days Later
Selena in 28 Days Later
Sergeant Doyle in 28 Weeks Later
Sergeant Doyle in 28 Weeks Later

These idiosyncrasies did not ruin the movie for me because the characters more than made for them. Each movie had someone I'd want on my team during a crisis. Selena from Days is a woman who knows how to survive and doesn't hesitate to do what's necessary. She may be so tightly wound up that she couldn't re-adjust to a new normality, but during SHTF, she'll have your back. Sergeant Doyle from Weeks is a well trained US Army sniper. Not only can he effectively deal with Zed, he can be just as ruthless with "normals" of ill intent. And, yet, he comes across as a nice guy when not in crisis mode. This is a rarity since someone who works well during SHTF tends not to be a well adjusted person when things return to normality (myself, for example).

Anyways, see this movie, but with a grain of salt. Oh, and make sure the house is empty of pain in the ass neighbor kids, just in case.

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Zombieland
Zombieland

directed by Ruben Fleischer

I so wanted to hate this movie. It's another instance where I got screwed out of the recognition I deserve. I signed on as a consultant to help the screen writers get the details right. I do a fair amount of this kind of work due to my varied experiences during the zombie war. And what happens? They base the two male characters largely on me and yet, no mention of my name in the credits. True, they took some artistic license with the facts: I am better looking than either actor, wear a much nicer hat and had a thing for Hostess apple pies, not Twinkies. Just once, I'd like the world to know my story.

Like I said, I went into this movie filled with a rage burning brighter than a thousand suns. But those bastards made a great movie! I can't hate it. Sure, I can quibble with some of the details — explain to me how rotting flesh can run a 4.4 forty? — but over all, sound advice has been packaged in an great story.

The list of rules that Columbus generated is absolutely brilliant. I wish I could lay claim to that idea (though I did live by rules, I never wrote them down, dammit!). While some of these are obvious and covered in other sources like The Zombie Survival Guide, he came up with a few that I had not considered, such as:

Rule 2: Beware of Bathrooms

A very good idea since they usually have only a single entry point, it would be easy to become trapped.

Rule 7: Keep the Dumb Dumbs Close at Hand

This is a variant of the "You don't have to be faster than the bear" rule. It's kinda cold, and I wouldn't use this strategy with just anyone (say a child or the elderly), but with someone who should otherwise know better and is a pain in the ass? Sure. Better him than me.

Rule 24: No Drinking

Ah, I would have thought that this would be a tough one for me, but given that I didn't have time to chill for the first few weeks after the outbreak, I never even considered taking a nip. But it's true, in a world where you are prey, you cannot afford to check out mentally, even for a few hours.

Rule 4: Doubletap

This is one rule with which I might have an argument, but if you listen closely to Columbus's explanation, he limits its applicability. Still, it's important to remember your goal when combatting zombies: you don't necessarily want to kill them, you need to eliminate them as a threat. If you're on the run and you put a zed down, it don't matter if he's still a twitcher. Don't stick around to finish the job, get the hell out of there!

Go see this movie! Yes, you will be riveted by the well written story and believable characters. More important, though, you will learn useful tips that may save your life should we experience another outbreak.

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The Mist by Stephen King
The Mist by Stephen King

by Stephen King

[Updated to remove reference to my no longer used Star Rating system.]

Are you ready for the end of the world? Truly, right now, if it happened, would you be prepared? It's one thing to talk and write about it, but another to experience it. We are better equipped today to handle this than we were pre-SHTF, but only because we have experienced the end of the world and survived. And when ours occurred, it started slowly, like a brush fire. We had days, or at least hours, to grok what was happening and take steps to deal with it. But what if it came out of the blue? Suppose your first inkling of the undead was a zombie battering down the conference room door during your weekly status meeting? I bet you wouldn't be here today.

Stephen King, a famous writer from before World War Z, wrote a piece of fiction that masterfully addresses this issue: The Mist, part of his collection of short stories titled Skeleton Crew. It has recently been made into a movie directed by Frank Darabont. I am covering both instances of this story in a single review because there is very little substantive difference between the two.

WARNING: Here there be spoilers!

The trigger is the eponymous mist that envelops the town as cover for, or perhaps the cause of, a range of otherworldly creatures that seek to end the world as we know it. Luck is the first variable that determines who survives. No matter how well prepared you might be, physically and mentally, if you are caught in the wrong place, you're dead. Even if you weren't, though, this would have been a difficult event to cope with emotionally. I dare say few would be able to redraw their mental maps in order to account for a bestiary that ranges from vulture-sized creatures with a poisonous sting to enormous, many legged monsters capable of crushing buildings. As in Mr. King's story, most would go insane.

Another issue dealt with masterfully here is how to pace yourself. If you are able to estimate how long an event might last, you could ration your energy and supplies to get you to that point. But when you have no clue, this becomes impossible. Is it a matter of hours, days or even years? You can't live minute-to-minute that way. You'll exhaust yourself and fall pray to an otherwise avoidable mistake. In the story, the question of whether or not one should leave the sanctuary of the store continuously arises. The place is an excellent location in which to hole up: you have plenty of supplies and, after a certain amount of work, it's reasonably secure. It won't last forever, though. Either your supplies or patience will run out. If only you know how long until it might be over. This is a key question for everyone who faces a TEotWaWKI event. It drives everything from when to seek shelter to when to abandon it. The tragic ending of the movie version – one of the few places where it differs from the short story – clearly demonstrates the problem of pacing one's self.

Finally, and most importantly, is the question of leadership. As demonstrated in Lucifer's Hammer, you cannot avoid this issue. Somebody will become alpha, it's just a question of who. It's in your best interest to ensure that this person is on your side. There are two characters in The Mist who step up to fill the leadership void, none of whom I'd want to be my alpha. The first, Brent Norton, is a man who couldn't redraw his mental map. He refused to believe in the danger that his eyes plainly told him existed. As a result, he lead several people to their deaths in a misguided attempt to seek help. The second, Mrs. Carmody, clearly saw that the events matched her world view: God is punishing us for our sins. I do not believe you could have done anything about the first, Brent was dead set on his path. The religious nut, however, would not have had an audience to sway to her point of view if someone else offered a viable alternative. If no one else is filling the void, you should step up.

Overall, I highly recommend this story, both in video and textual form. It is well written and acted. You will be entertained. It also clearly demonstrates lessons you need to learn should you be confronted with yet another end of the world scenario. Beware, though, of the fantastical nature of the harbinger of doom in this story. As something so different from real life experiences, I fear people will ignore any lessons it has to offer. If I could go back in time and warn the world about the impending zombie outbreak, I certainly wouldn't say a word about the undead. I would be ignored. Instead, I'd describe the zombies as infected, perhaps rabid, humans who have gone insane, leading them to murderous acts. This, at least, is something people back then could have grasped and dealt with.

Maybe...