So many disaster movies are concerned with capturing the enormous spectacle of their stories, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, when done well – see J. A. Bayona’s The Impossible – this can make for quite the cinematic experience. However, for her first feature, The End We Start From, English director Mahalia Belo is far more interested in the smaller, quieter moments that the end of the world might bring with it.
Adapted for the screen from Megan Hunter’s 2017 novel of the same name, The End We Start From follows a young couple who are forced to abandon their London home after the capital city is hit by severe flooding. Played by Jodie Comer and Joel Fry, the couple, who have just become parents, venture north to stay with family amidst the environmental chaos. But with food supplies running low and people becoming more desperate by the day, the couple must make some hard decisions in order to protect their family.
In choosing to focus more on the intimate, personal elements of this family’s impossible predicament, Belo’s film transcends many of the more tired genre clichés, setting itself aside in distinct fashion. Although, this isn’t to say that the plot lacks action. There is plenty included throughout, but as these moments are about to unfold, Belo chooses to draw back, letting the majority of them play out off-screen. And while this may sound like the audience is being short changed, what she offers instead ensures that viewers will still be more than satisfied.
Honing in on the physical and psychological effects of the traumatic events the characters endure proves all the more effective. Sitting with these characters as they process and react to the brutal experiences they’ve been through, rather than making a spectacle out of them, feels infinitely more humane and creates a far more emotional experience for audiences.
This more considerate approach is only strengthened with the addition of Comer’s commanding leading performance. She portrays a strong and capable young mother, but one who’s equally as exasperated. Yet, Comer gives the film the unshakeable grounding it requires, while also consistently driving it forward. She has wonderful support from Fry, who plays an almost inverted version of her character. He brings a sensitivity to his performance that helps to convey the tender relationship between the two, and in doing so presents a refreshingly gentle portrayal of a husband and father.
Elsewhere, the film’s road-trip style narrative provides a further range of characters to meet along the way, many of whom are thoughtfully portrayed by some quite well-known names. These various interactions lead the characters and viewers to a stirring finale that remains compelling until its very final moments. This is predominately achieved through the film’s excellent sense of realism, as minus some shoddy green screen effects for a few of its urban backgrounds, everything on screen just feels so plausible.
With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly more prevalent in everyday life, too, the film feels like less of a cautionary tale and more of a cinematic prophecy for inevitable environmental calamity, that in some instances, is already here. Yet, amongst all the apocalyptic adversity and the devastating drama on display, there’s a degree of hope running through The End We Start From that’s well worth clinging to. And with a debut as well-considered as this, there’s certainly much hope for whatever Mahalia Belo does next.
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Bolstered by Jodie Comer’s fantastic leading performance, Mahalia Belo’s The End We Start From is a powerful debut that delivers a thoughtful approach to the end of the world.
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