Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Jason Figgis' RAILWAY CHILDREN: Post-Apocalyptic Survival with No Adult Supervision
Railway Children (2010)
Director: Jason Figgis
Writer: Jason Figgis
Cast: Catherine Wrigglesworth, Emily Forster, Justine Rodgers, Ellen Mullen, Laoise Barrett, Dylan Jennings, Adam Tyrrell
Website: Railway Children Official Site
If Irish filmmaker Jason Figgis hadn't set his microbudget feature Railway Children in a post-apocalyptic landscape, it would still be an effective piece of storytelling. Figgis' film is loosely inspired by the Edith Nesbit book of the same name, and the book itself appears in the film as an appropriate keepsake carried by the lead characters. Figgis takes the central idea of Nesbit's story - children from comfortable homes forced to live in less-than-ideal-conditions - and puts a hopeless dramatic horror spin on the premise. Instead of the wonderful adventures found in the book, the railway children of Figgis' film face desolate conditions, starvation, and sudden violence in a world with no adults. The biggest difference between the two works - aside from the lack of a railway in Figgis' film - is that Nesbit's characters never had to perform the unsavory acts found in Figgis' story.
Sisters Evie (Catherine Wrigglesworth) and Fran (Emily Forster) roam the wastelands of rural Ireland after a viral outbreak kills off all the adults in what appears a widespread pandemic. By day they search for provisions, holding up at night in dilapidated buildings along the way. For comfort, they take turns reading from The Railway Children as a temporary escape from their ordeal. When the sisters cross paths with a larger group of children, tensions lead to conflict as one faction harbors a terrible secret of soul-altering consequences.
Railway Children boasts stunning performances from its cast of teens and young children. Wrigglesworth and Forster in particular shine as the sisters, and are surrounded by an equally impressive supporting cast. Figgis may be influenced by Nesbit's whimsical adventure tale, but he's equally propelled by William Golding's Lord of the Flies as petty bickering and stealing - a result of the remaining population's immaturity and desperation - derails any chance of cooperation. Instead of bettering their situation, the behavior of the young survivors leads to little more than arguments over boyfriends and beatings for meaningless trinkets. The group refuses to grasp that provisions are running dangerously low, and that a monstrous act is on the horizon for their continued survival. Their flippant, cold and boastful attitudes mask the underlying grief and trauma wrought from the catastrophe, and they wear their denial like a suit of armor.
Figgis and crew make excellent use of their limitations. Their portrayal of the outbreak is broken into smaller pieces that provide the back stories for most of the major characters. The viewer witnesses - firsthand - the breakdown of each child's parent as a representation of devastation that's transpired all over the country (or the world). The adults are stricken with inexplicable flu-like symptoms followed by complete psychological disintegration. These scenes are horrific, elevated by the committed performances of both "infected", and the children who must now contend with the overwhelming responsibility of fending for themselves in a hostile environment. Figgis pulls no punches - viscerally or emotionally - in depictions of the desperate measures taken by his characters.
The dialogue in Railway Children is exceptional, and captures the tediousness and gravity of the situation quite well. Nothing ever feels inauthentic, especially the mannerisms of the children who - mishandled - could come across as disingenuous. The locations, though minimal, give the film an eerily intimate claustrophobia. The only complaint might be in Figgis' tendency to make certain scenes run a little longer than necessary. The film - though far from lacking in action - is primarily character-driven, and as such, the film's pacing suffers a bit in this regard. With a little trimming, Figgis could still nail his emotional points while giving the film a little more urgency. Let me stress that this is a very minor criticism, and it would be difficult to say what should even be excised. The material is that meaningful.
At the core, Railway Children is the story of resiliency. For all of society's designs on protecting children, even those in the best social situations find themselves abused, malnourished, alone. When the relative comfort of a warm bed and a hot meal is removed from the equation, children just may startle their protectors by their ability to adapt and survive. What makes Figgis' film absorbing is that children - whether traversing a post-apocalyptic landscape or not - may be better suited to survive catastrophe with an adaptability that hasn't been tainted by the stubbornness of age. In this, Figgis' film is a stunning exploration that works outside of the context of horror allegory, but thrives because of it. Potent, no frills films like this are the reason we at this site continue to promote truly independent genre films.
Railway Children Trailer
RAILWAY CHILDREN - Official Trailer from Jason Figgis on Vimeo.