Any fans of unbelievably barmy reality show Doomsday Preppers (now streaming on Netflix) will surely know what an EMP is. An ‘Electro-magnetic pulse’ is often thought to be the most likely cause of apocalyptic destruction in our current times, causing colossal disruption and damage to all electrical equipment that would likely send our technology-addicted selves into a complete meltdown.
In Ben McPherson’s debut Radioflash, an EMP has supposedly wiped out the entirety of the West coast, but one plucky girl, Reese (Brighton Sharbino) and her father, Chris (Dominic Monaghan) are ahead of the game thanks to their very own doomsday prepper grandfather Frank (Will Patton). Frank keeps himself holed up in the mountains, away from technology and communicates with Reese via radio, assuring the father daughter duo that they must escape the city to meet him at his safe place in the mountains.
What starts out as a basic survival thriller quickly spirals into a sloppy mix of genres and illogical decisions. While the plot deems itself to be incredibly straightforward −get to grandpa Frank− McPherson tries to experiment too much with tangents, diminishing what could be a simple father daughter expedition against the odds. We’ve seen Dominic Monaghan scale mountains on a difficult journey before, he certainly has the emotional range to deliver the relationship driven drama Radioflash promises, which would have also complimented the films easy-going and non-flashy approach to a survival film.
Initially its difficult to even chart the distance Reese and Chris manage to travel, what is described as miles away could be simply around the corner, and a completely indistinct sense of night and day prevent the film from delivering the feeling of undertaking a massive journey. Before the pair even head into the forest at the foot of the mountain, they are warned by other people fleeing the city that the forest is full of crazy hillbilly types. Surely, we can’t be talking The Hills Have Eyes level of crazy hillbillies? Maybe just a cranky old farmer with a shotgun? Nope. McPherson opts for what I can only describe as a Poundland version of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre style family that seek to capture Reese and indoctrinate her to their lifestyle.
This tonal shift to horror is very unwelcome in this environment but might have worked well as its own story. This horror strand of Radioflash is however far more welcome than the abomination of a romance sub-plot that is forced in the film’s final act, and the supernatural visions Reese sees throughout the films course.
McPherson is guilty of the common fatal flaw of feature debut filmmakers in that he’s tried to cram in every idea he’s had in probably the last ten year to try to make his debut as bold and full as possible. Unfortunately, here this just doesn’t translate as consistent storytelling on screen.
However, there is an intriguing theme throughout the film though, one that tries to examine class ties and the city v rural divide. The city slickers like Reese and Chris are dependent on their technology (the film opens with a misleading sequence of Reese playing a VR escape room) and that the country folk are more in touch with nature and an analogue lifestyle, therefore more prepared for disaster events. This is in contrast with the films idea that the ones living out in the sticks are also complete lunatics, men preparing for doomsday and crazy old ladies that want you in their cult.
Radioflash is a film at war with its own ideas, its central themes in conflict with one another and its plot spiralling out in complexity as film progresses, ultimately convincing the audience to forget there was ever an EMP disaster in the first place. With talent experienced with spending time in meandering forests −Sharbino in The Walking Dead and Monaghan in Lord of the Rings− the focus strays from letting these actors really dig into their character’s father and daughter dynamics in what could have been a simple tale of survival and family.
Radioflash is out on Digital now
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here