15 September 2009

The Lawless Land

Lawless Land
United States – 1988
Director – Jon Hess
MGM/UA Home Video, 1989, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 21 min.

I love post-apocalypse movies mostly because I enjoy seeing how others envision the surviving social order and infrastructure after a nuclear (or some other) holocaust. However, if The Lawless Land is supposed to be post apocalyptic, or as the box claims “after the inferno of WWIII”, then color me disappointed. As much as I like explosions and well rendered watercolors, this cover art is just dumb. It cries out in the faces of the two characters: Here is this explosion/bike/car thing and I’m trying hard, but am I supposed to care? The single sentence of narration that opens the film; “the Southern continent, after the collapse,” may be the only on screen clue that there was any kind of apocalypse at all, whatever it was.

OK, I will assume that there was some kind of apocalypse, that it was an “inferno”, and this is after it. Strangely, this post-apocalypse is quite remarkable in its complete lack of visual post-apocalyptic cues. What quickly becomes obvious is that it is in fact simply a colonized South American country, and judging by the climate, southern Peru/northern Chile. The indigenous population, referred to as “Inca” at several points are subjected to poverty, toil and degradation in some kind of mine operated by the ruthless white elite.

In fact the more I think about it, this movie right down to the title is a barely subtle indictment of the US and corporate backed Chilean military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Consider for a moment the brutal repression that the people of that country suffered. It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to think that the CIA sponsored collapse of a hard won people’s democracy might be considered apocalyptic by the people who suffered under it. By that logic it follows that the subsequent 16-year fascist rule would fit the post apocalyptic bill.

All of this doesn’t make the movie any less flat because it's quickly stepped over. The protagonist Inca by the name of Falco, shacks up with the daughter of the Chairman Oppressor, Diana (Amanda Peterson of Explorers). Her dad is seriously pissed at the threat of a shitty Romeo and Juliet ripoff and hires a bounty hunter played by "Leon", an actor named with as much commitment as this movie has to a message.

I'll wake you up when its over.

Here the film gets plenty of mileage out of the remarkably authentic sets to be found in Chile. First it’s into the streets where Falco and Diana flee from ready-made curfews, roadblocks and a heavy police presence that minimizes the cost of hiring extras (crucial when your movie is produced by Roger Corman.) Then into prison where Falco’s nipples are hooked up to a car battery while the Chairman watches without satisfaction. And finally when our new-wave hero escapes, out into the desert where the film drifts to a lazy end. A mixed bag of confusing temporal cues and secondary characters have passed by with little mention. Like Falco’s namesake, a telekinetic falcon that pops up for a scene iliciting short lived anticipation. But ultimately it too goes the way of the films commitment to its initial metaphor; ineffectual, ignored and quickly forgotten.

A poster from MTC Europa Video

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