The Well (2014) - Day 1: The Boston Science Fiction Festival kicks off with this story of a girl at the end of the world and the end of her time in a parched Oregon of the future where water is the only commodity worth your life. Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson) fights the menacing murderous water baron Carson (Jon Gries) and his minions for the possession of her last source of fresh water in her area. After he kills many of the people she loves though she also enacts revenge on their killers. This film has a horror vibe to it mixed with a western aesthetic in a post apocalyptic setting. Kendal is the strong final girl who fights through death and constant threats to her safety to come out the other side of the story victorious in a battle that in the end will never be winnable.
Thomas S. Hammock moves from his many credits of production designer to creating a taught film that builds tension and in the end pays off. He even brought his friends from other movies in for bit parts as we see the writing directing team of Simon Barrett (Dead Birds, You're Next) and Adam Wingard (You're Next, The Guest) appear as compound guards.
The cinematography by Seamus Tierney who worked much in horror manages to capture that western feel with his wide vistas of the desolate landscape. While the unusual music by Craig Deleon adds to the film instead of taking away. First time Writer / Director
We join Kendal and companion Dean (Booboo Stewart) at the end of their rope. The well the have been getting water from is drying up producing less and less water each day. Danger is all around with desperate people wandering through looking for anything to drink, whether offered or not. Then there is Carson and his gang, pumping the water out of the wells with a religious fervor. He is the "water baron" who wants it all for himself and is not hesitant to kill to remove anyone else who is pumping water out of the ground. For Kendal and dean this means hiding behind a fake wall in the attic of their desolate . It does not help that Dean is dying of kidney failure as we join the story. They have hope in a plane they found that just needs the right distributor cap and they can fly out of the region and look for wetter climates. Kendal risk her life daily to bring them water, and to search vehicles for the part she needs. Will she find it before Carson and his group find them and kill them?
Haley Lu Richardson is so believable as a competent survivor with a heart, Certainly she kills when she has to but she is not callous or vindictive in taking life. It is a strength of the film that this actress is the lead. The villains of this film are Carson and his lovely yet heartless daughter Brooke (Nicole Arianna Fox) his priest and assorted guards. The choice of a religious bent on why they are stealing all the water and killing their neighbors is an interesting decision. On one hand it motivates them to do it from a moral certainty, they are the inheritors of the earth and are righteous in their crusade. Maybe for those characters they needed a cause to allow their murderous behavior so they tip their sanity slightly off center and that lets them live with their decisions. On the other hand it takes away from the immoral acts making the perpetrators slightly less accountable for their actions.
The plot is a bit inevitable as is often the case with post apocalyptic survival movies. Reminiscent of "The Road" it is about the end of the end of civilization. Since we know the water is running out, who the bad guys are who the good guys are and the search for the plane part we can guess that there will be a final showdown and who comes away with what she needs. Thing is this film does a nice job getting to the conclusion. Even with the few secondary characters who are only around Kendal to humanize her, Dean who she cares for and the too wise for his age Alby (Max Charles) a boy of 9 years or so surviving on his own, we know that this is really a struggle about her getting to the point where she can try to leave this wasteland. There are some nice surprises like Barbara Campton as Grace another local farmer and Rena Owen as a wanderer looking for water. Every time the survival aspect of the film starts seeming monotonous there is a spatter of danger to liven it up. Primarily through the music this film creates a tension, hard to describe the sound scape is rich and deep but not quite industrial in its approach.
In the end the film although character based and well drawn is just a bit too inevitable. I enjoyed the viewing but really never had any doubt where it was going.