My Favorite Film & Television Dystopias

A dystopia is generally defined as an imagined society where suffering is plentiful with people living in either a totalitarian or post-apocalyptic state. As you’ll see from my list, my preference leans on the tyrannical side of things. I tend to think societies won’t collapse in as dramatic a fashion as Mad Max, but rather people will reassemble a twisted skeleton of what is familiar & comfortable. To hold things together, people will accept the glue of authoritarian rule, whether through an individual despot or a faceless corporation. In most of these dark futures, there is not tangible governmental leadership; instead, it operates behind the scenes and is typically a merger of government & private corporations.

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Movie Review – Southland Tales (The Cannes Cut)

Southland Tales – The Cannes Cut (2006)
Written & Directed by Richard Kelly

The promise of Richard Kelly was huge and seems to have dimmed in the last decade. In the wake of Donnie Darko, he was suddenly rocketed to the list of hot up-and-comers. I was definitely one of those people caught up in the Darko hype. I still hold that it’s his best work to date and that his subsequent work never felt quite as honed and clear. Southland Tales was the follow-up with a bigger budget and big names in the cast. It debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, and it was hailed as a disaster, bloated and too sprawling. Another cut was made for the theatrical release, and the reaction was much the same from audiences.

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Movie Review – Last Night

Last Night (1998)
Written & Directed by Don McKellar

What would you do if you knew it was the final day of the Earth’s existence? Much like the Last Man on Earth trope, this is another one that comes up often when you explore Apocalyptic fiction. Here we have Canadian filmmaker Don McKellar’s distinct take on the end of the world, which balances both the darker aspects of humanity that would crop up and the way other people would cling to the norms and routines of decorum and civilization even as the end approached. It’s very different from the other films in this series, which is precisely why I wanted to watch it.

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Movie Review – The Quiet Earth

The Quiet Earth (1985)
Written by Bill Baer, Bruno Lawrence, and Sam Pillsbury
Directed by Geoff Murphy

The Last Man on Earth trope is a prevalent one in popular science fiction, being the fodder of the Twilight Zone multiple adaptations of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and even a Fox television series. There’s the old scary story “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.” This is the foundation on which The Quiet Earth is built, exploring what it would be like to exist as the last member of your species, knowing that with your end, so goes all memory of your civilizations.

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Movie Review – Threads

Threads (1984)
Written by Barry Hines
Directed by Mick Jackson

If you’ve spent any amount of time perusing YouTube for the 1970s/80s British Public Service Announcements, then you know they are some of the most horrific content produced for television. They are unflinchingly direct and severe in how they communicate warnings. It was that this sense of not holding information back that led to the BBC commissioning the filming of Threads. Mick Jackson had done a short film about Armageddon and the result of a nuclear war a couple of years earlier, but the BBC wanted a full-length feature to air on their network.

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Movie Review – Stalker

Stalker (1979)
Written by Boris Strugatsky & Arkady Strugatsky
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

Today I begin a week-ish long series called Worlds on the Edge of Chaos. My thought behind this series of movies is to look at apocalyptic films that aren’t Mad Max-ian, deep in the primal collapse of mankind. These movies are intended to be more philosophical about collapse, with characters existing on the precipice between the world that was and falling into the oblivion of the end. These pictures will vary wildly in tone and characters, but they will all explore the themes that arise when we confront the end of civilization as we know it. Many of these movies present their collapse with a melancholy quiet proposing the old adage that the world will end with a whisper.

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Movie Review – Birdboy: The Forgotten Children

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (2015)
Written & Directed by Alberto Vázquez & Pedro Rivero

On an island in a seemingly endless sea, where a factory in the industrial zone exploded, leaving this place a decaying hell, lives Birdboy. Birdboy is a teenager possessed by a demonic force that makes its home in the lighthouse just off the shoreline. Despite his dark nature and dependency on meds to keep this demon at bay, Birdboy is loved by Dinky, a mouse girl from a troubled family. Dinky is a runaway who, with her friends Sandra the rabbit and Little Fox, have pooled their money to try and buy a boat so they can finally escape this place. This animated Spanish-language picture is very dark and most definitely a mature adult-oriented film dealing in themes of mental illness, addiction, and abuse.

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PopCult Book Club Review: March 2017 – Bird Box

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
(Ecco, 2014)


The day society collapses Malorie learns she is pregnant. No one can say why everything has fallen apart, but there are some theories. The most prevalent are that the people who have gone murderous and crazed saw something, creatures or entities, that broke their minds. By the time Malorie heads to the safe house in Detroit people are boarding up their windows and only going outside equipped with blindfolds. Humanity is slipping into darkness. Josh Malerman’s debut novel jumps between Malorie’s pregnancy in the safe house to her blind journey down a river with her equally blinded children. She’s been told that somewhere down the river lies a place where the three of them can be safe. But is something stalking them on the shore?

Bird Box gets a lot of things right. First, it builds tension incredibly well. The concept of something you see, possibly even from the corner of your eye and can drive you to a homicidal rage is terrifying. The book introduces the apocalypse in the background, just a few strange piecemeal stories out of rural Russia. Then more and more incidents are reported until everything has crumbled. It also hits Malorie personally as early on she comes across a loved one who has seen whatever is causing this mental break. Malerman’s smartly leaves the exact nature of what is going a mystery. Characters wildly speculating is much scarier than the book spelling out what is happening outside the doors of the safehouse.

By building a paranoid tension, the author also develops his characters based on how they react to their circumstances. This is an excellent way to let your readers quickly get to know Malorie and the six or so supporting figures around her. As soon as she arrives at the safe house, we are aware who these people are right away. We see who is keeping a level head and trying to come up with workable solutions. We are aware who is petrified with fear about the change. We see who is quick to anger and irritation. I’m not a huge fan of The Walking Dead television series, but I do think Bird Box treads similar ground in its focus on ensemble character interaction. Malerman juxtaposes Malorie against another pregnant survivor. The house’s de facto leader Tom is mirrored and contrasted by a couple of other characters, one of whom comes late the story and could be considered the antagonist of the novel.

There is also something to be said for how smart it is to handicap your characters with the apocalypse, and then on top of that take away their chief sense. Malorie’s blindfolded odyssey out to a local bar to gather supplies is a grippingly tense sequence. Everything takes longer to do, and these stretched out moments allow us to immerse ourselves in the scene. We know as much as Malorie knows. When she discovers the trapdoor in the floor and the subsequent stench of horror that comes from it, we receive the same sensory input she does. This particular mode of information delivery is at it’s best during the journey down the river. Malorie has spent four years adapting herself and her children to the world without sight. As their boat floats down the waters, every sound is a potential threat. A brief encounter with another human on their trip is paranoid and suspenseful. Everyone is a danger, and she begins to speculate about the creatures and if they can now mimic human speech.

Overall, Bird Box is a very breezy exciting read. I wouldn’t place it up there with the type of horror I treasure, but it is a read very worthy of your time. I guarantee it will keep you glued due to his narrative momentum. When the horrific finale in the safe house finally comes about in the last two dozen pages, you’ll not be able to stop until you find out how it concludes. When Malorie and the children are within hearing distance of the new haven, her paranoia will overtake you, and you won’t be sure if they will make it.

Movie Review – Into the Forest

a24 visions

Into the Forest (2015, dir. Patricia Rozema)


It’s hard to pinpoint just where Into the Forest goes wrong, but at some point, I found myself completely disengaged with the film. It tells the story of two sisters, Nell and Eva, stranded at their family home in Northern California, about 32 miles from the closest town after an unexplained global event destroys the power grid and sends society into chaos. The two sisters struggle to survive when they end up without anyone but each other. Through a series of trials and challenges, they learn to let go of their reliance on technology and reconnect with the natural aspects of the forest around them.

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Book Club Announcement – March 2017: Bird Box

Bird Box (2014, Josh Malerman, Ecco)


The apocalypse came and with it was the poisoning of a sense: sight. Whatever is out there, when you gaze upon it, you become a violent raging killer. Malorie, a single mother in Detroit, lives with her windows boarded up and her children blindfolded on a daily basis. They must learn to grow their other senses because what they might see beyond the door of their home could destroy them.

“Malerman excels at building tension with his eerie descriptions of blindfolded characters groping their way through a world of the dead, aware that something inhuman and beyond comprehension might be observing them, or possibly standing right in front of them. Malorie’s trek down the river is frightening, but even more unsettling is the constant awareness of the characters’ helplessness in both timelines, and the possible price of any attempt to alleviate it: Every time they hear a strange noise, encounter an unnervingly unfamiliar object, or feel what might be a gentle touch from an unseen, alien creature, they’re tempted to lift their blindfolds and settle their fears—possibly at the cost of their sanity, and then their lives” – The AV Club.