In a world where post-apocalyptic dramas are a dime a dozen, its refreshing when you finally find a film entry into the canon that chooses to focus on the character-driven drama in a quieter fashion. In doing so, films take on a more accessible feeling; disaster rooted in some sort of mysterious reality pulls viewers in but watching people attempt to rebuild in a new world is often the reason to stay. It’s a finely wrought balance, rarely done in major blockbusters (summer tent-poles regularly fail to tick that box), but Astraea (2015) is a seriously intriguing piece of independent filmmaking that succeeds on this alchemy of catastrophe and renewal.
Asteaea (Nerea Durhart) and her half-brother Matthew (Scotty Crowe) roam from place to place, slowly working their way across a desolate US, on their way north to Nova Scotia in the hopes of being reunited with their brother and grandmother. Astraea has visions that give her confidence in their journey; Scotty is the determined, if not a little strong-and-silent, companion that helps keep them both on course. When they cross paths with cousins Callie (Jessica Cummings) and James (Dan O’Brien), they are invited to stay for a little while to rest and recuperate. What follows is the group coming together as a sort of surrogate family in the face of uncertain times, trying to carve out a life in a world where they fear they may be the only ones left. Astraea the second major feature from writer-director duo Ashlin Halfnight and Kristjan Thor. Its a film that should be regarded as an omen of good things to come from them in the future.
Halfnight’s script is solid in its construction and smartly chooses to not get caught up in the mechanics of disaster. Rather, the ominous circumstances serves as a contextual shroud for these characters. News broadcasts, old newspapers and deserted landscapes gives viewers enough of a vision to understand just how nihilistic life can be. By solidly focusing on themes of survival and trust – as seen through the eyes of a young girl on the cusp of adulthood – the screenplay has an added layer of innocence and tenderness that flourishes under Thor’s direction. As is often the case in sucg indie fare, quiet performances are favoured and soft moments like Astraea and Matthew in their tent doing a secret handshake, or Callie teaching Matthew how to play the violin, are scored to music that provides just the right touch of pathos. Beautiful and stirring, if not dramatically heavyset, Astraea isn’t concerned with endings and beginnings but in both cases makes for thoroughly satisfying viewing.