The End We Start From

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The End We Start From
dir Mahalia Belo
scr Alice Birch
prd Adam Ackland, Leah Clarke, Sophie Hunter, Amy Jackson, Liza Marshall
with Jodie Comer, Joel Fry, Katherine Waterston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Gina McKee, Mark Strong, Nina Sosanya, Alexandria Riley, Ansu Kabia, Jake Davies, Theo Barklem-Biggs, Sophie Duval
release US 8.Dec.23,
UK 19.Jan.24
23/UK BBC 1h42

fry cumberbatch mckee
london film fest
afi fest

Is it streaming?

waterston and comer
Set in the immediate near future, this film tells its story through perception and emotion rather than plotting, to the extent that none of the characters even have names. Alice Birch's script uses long stretches of silence without the need for words, while Mahalia Belo's direction maintains a singular point of view to pull the viewer into the central character's odyssey. The result is moving and strongly involving.
With relentless rain falling on London, a heavily pregnant woman (Comer) goes into labour. The baby is a healthy boy, and her husband (Fry) makes it to the hospital, but their home has been flooded, so they head north to stay with his parents (Strong and Sosanya). While there, the social chaos worsens across Britain. To find safety, the woman and baby enter a shelter, where they meet a fellow young mother (Waterston). Together they decide to head for an island commune. But the woman is determined to find her husband and reunite the family.
Seeing everything through this young new mother's eyes, the film focusses on experiences rather than science. The only details we learn about this epic climate event are those she hears along the way. Instead, the film's focus is on her resilience and deeper yearnings, which emerge in deftly interwoven flashbacks. This effectively put us in her shoes, as we never know any more than she does. It also adds a proper kick of suspense that augments the nasty violence and terrific special effects work.

Performances are skilfully understated, creating an almost documentary realism. While Comer's character is experiencing some extreme emotions, she maintains a guarded exterior for much of the time. She only drops her guard alongside Fry and Waterston, creating terrific chemistry with both actors that allows all three to find surprising textures. And side players along the way are terrific, including Cumberbatch in a pivotal sequence and McKee as the head of the island community.

Deeper issues about humanity emerge throughout this woman's journey, exploring the ways people react when their way of life is threatened. It's certainly not an optimistic portrait, although the grim horror is continuously muted by the filmmakers' choices as an undercurrent of hopefulness (see the title) runs through everything. Post-apocalypse fans might be disappointed by the internalised approach, and the fantastical elements are perhaps a bit on-the-nose for arthouse audiences. But the cumulative effect is thoughtful and haunting on several levels.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 4.Jan.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall