A semi-sci-fi drama with buckets of potential, that unfortunately ends up getting too bogged-down in its muted style set to ever truly be engaging.
Another debut feature of this year’s London Film Festival comes from Argentine Lukas Valenta Rinner, whose extraordinarily bleak and deadpan pre-dystopian sci-fi drama boasts a truly minimalist style – although one which never really appears to gel with its overall subject matter.
Parabellum follows a small group of seemingly average citizens, as they leave their regular lives behind in order to adventure out into the distant marshlands, and attend a privately-run holiday camp focussed on training its guests for the end of the world. Through advanced sessions in combat, survival and fitness, the new recruits become gradually more and more well-versed in the skills needed to survive a potential apocalypse. Which is pretty lucky seeing as one seems to looming on the horizon anyway.
A perfectly credible concept, this much is true, although It does become clear pretty quickly that Rinner’s film has something of a one-track mind. True, the central idea of training for the end of days is a solid one, and for the most part, the film handles it all realistically, from its casting choices right down to its colour-palette, but ultimately there’s really nothing special or particularly inviting here.
Rinner’s muted approach, from his grey/beige-washed photography to his stripped-back, entirely functional dialogue, may appear technically sound, but proves to be – over time – incredibly draining. The characters land without any real sense of personality or individualism, and the training itself, although sometimes quite darkly comic, is never particularly engaging. Everything feels very much uniform and subdued throughout, with nothing standing out or capturing the audience’s imagination at all.
Which is a shame considering the tone Rinner is angling for is really quite unique and could have been surprisingly funny. Believe it or not, there’s plenty of absurdist humour here which, although played with an incredibly straight face, certainly had the potential to shift Parabellum up a level in terms of its appeal. Sadly instead however, much of these laughs are lost in a haze of depressing, down-beat tableaus, pulled to pieces by repetition and the complete lack of any real sense of spectacle.
And so despite leaking mass amounts of potential from its central ideals, Parabellum ultimately ends up a disappointingly dreary affair, lacking in both heart and general audience investment. If he were to repurpose some of these ideas into a more entertaining and engaging film however, first-timer Rinner may be onto something special. Only time will tell.
Parabellum (2015), directed by Lukas Valenta Rinner, is being shown as part of the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. Further information about the film including screening times and ticket information can be found here.