A new ice age has descended upon the earth, wreaking havoc and disintegrating every semblance of order or civilization. Now people roam the land, marauding and looting what they can.
In this new world of lawlessness, two brothers try to survive, moving from one place to another. But the younger one, Jem, can’t seem to let go of the old, where he was free to play, imagine and dream. It’s up to the eldest, Cody, to protect him — at almost any cost.
Writer-director Jeremy Robbins has created a short but highly tense apocalyptic thriller, balancing an eerily quiet atmosphere of bleak dread with powerfully effective drama.
The film doesn’t spend a lot of time on world-building or explanations, though the visuals are breathtakingly austere and icy, as human figures are dwarfed by the vast expanses of snowy emptiness they struggle to cross. We only know from the broken-down buildings and the erratic, violent behavior of this world’s inhabitants that something has happened, and all laws and standards of human civilization have disintegrated.
Instead, the narrative invests most of its energy early on building up the relationship between the brothers. The connection is not without tension, as the Cody often loses his patience with his charge’s naivete, and the Jem regards his older sibling as paranoid and overbearing at times. But the core of their relationship is a strong, palpable love, an unmistakable bond that carries both through this terrible time and place.
Part of this may be due to the casting of the director’s younger brother Noah Robbins as Jem, who gives a terrific performance that arcs between innocent to hardened survivor over the film’s duration. He plays off actor Will Rogers well, making it utterly believable that they’re brothers who alternate between loving concern and simmering resentment.
The performances are captured with camerawork that’s both visceral and ominously removed, giving the spots of sudden violence that interrupt the snowy vistas and cold silence a terrible weight. One such surprising eruption of violence sends the elegantly pared down plot spinning into a more urgent direction, making for an unforgettable climax.
Though it’s full of well-crafted moments of fear, dread and brutality, “Aftermath” actually both a portrait of familial love and a coming-of-age story, as Jem truly grows up and emerges from the last remnants of his childhood in the course of the film’s 19 minutes. His final step is shocking, irrevocable and perhaps inevitable, making his adulthood in this new world a terrifying prospect — and what he has to leave behind to survive that much more tragic.