A viral outbreak has decimated the majority of humankind. The few survivors who remain live in fear of “the Changed”, the unfortunate people who’ve become feral bloodthirsty creatures as a result of the disease. Sounds like a movie you’ve seen before, right? I bet you’re thinking that the last thing the horror landscape needs right now is another goddamn zombie movie. Well if that’s the case, you’ll be pleased to know that What Still Remains isn’t really concerned with telling you another story about flesh-eating ghouls following the collapse of society.
Instead of focusing on the zombies, the story instead examines how these horrific events have affected humanity. In a world without laws, new societies have cropped up in the wasteland and it’s survival of the fittest. Everything comes with a price, even simple acts of common courtesy like being permitted to pass through some woodlands that were once free to be roamed by anyone. Prepare to lie, cheat, steal, and slaughter to survive these woods
The tale centres around Anna (Lulu Antariksa), a young woman who loses her family and struggles to survive in the wilderness until she meets Peter (Colin O’Donoghue), a drifter who promises her a better life among his people. In situations like this, where all hope is lost, and everyday is a fight for survival, Paul feels it would be wise for them to pair up. Eventually Anna comes around to the idea, but as she ventures out into the world gone mad, she discovers that the zombies she spent her life fearing are the least of her problems.
Despite the lack of undead monstrosities, What Still Remains is still by-the-book post-apocalyptic drama. You’ve seen these stories told before, that’s not a knock against the movie. For his first feature-length, writer-director Josh Mendoza has delivered a familiar story that contains some terrific world-building and a cynical worldview of humanity. Zombies are scary, sure, but Mendoza is more interested in tapping into terrors that don’t seem so far-fetched — like religious fanaticism, tribal warfare, and the loss of family. Again, we’ve seen all of this before, but Mendoza and his cast and crew do a great job of presenting their story as sincere. For 90 minutes, you’ll be transported to this world.
There’s a good mix of genre thrills here as well. After the story has taken us on a savage adventure through the wasteland, we’re introduced to a commune that’s populated by God-fearing folks with their own outdated customs. This is when proceedings really start to get juicy, as we witness our protagonist really come of age as she’s pitted against a system dictated by maniacal religious patriarchy and Old Testament values. If you’re a fan of movies about crazy cults then you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. Furthermore, Antariksa gives a great performance as a woman out to confront the dangers on the world head-on. But the whole cast delivers here, and given that the majority of them are playing lunatics to some degree, you really have to hand it to them.
Overall, What Still Remains is a confidently-directed debut for Mendoza. And one that boasts an abundance of style while providing some food for thought as a result of the grounded approach to the material. The film ends with sequel potential, and while I’d be fine with the adventure continuing in my own imagination, this is a world I’d be more than happy to return to as well.