ENDZEIT, or “Ever After” in English is the newest film from German-Swedish writer/director Carolina Hellsgard (Wanja). I must admit a problem I typically have. Whenever I hear a new zombie movie/TV show is coming out, I roll my eyes and say “Oh God, not again, aren’t there enough of these?” Then approximately one day – one moth later, I watch said movie/TV show and end up loving it. I blame this on being one of the biggest George Romero fans of all time and my general skeptical outlook on everything. Luckily, ENDZEIT opens at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8th and I hadn’t given myself the opportunity to turn my nose up at it yet, just to end up loving it later.
A lot of the more recent zombie-themed films and television shows have been much more creative thematically, whether we’re talking about Santa Clarita Diet or Night Eats the World. Thankfully, ENDZEIT is not an exception. The English name “Ever After” is a clue into the atmosphere of the film. Instead of being in your face violent and shocking the entire time, there are moments of great calm and a fantastical element to all the action. It’s more of a fantasy, or a fairy tale, of how the world changed because of the zombie outbreak.
The film centers on Vivi (Gro Swantjie Kohlhof; Nothing Bad Can Happen, We Are Young), a young woman who is suffering from severe depression and PTSD due to the events of the zombie apocalypse. There are only two cities that we know of in Germany that still have living humans, Weimar and Jena. Vivi is hospitalized in Weimar, but gets sent up to the outside to help repair a fence that keeps Weimar protected from the zombies that are everywhere outside of the fortressed metropolis.
Vivi meets Eva (Maja Lehrer: Unter uns, Wald) when the group she arrives with reaches the border fence. After a zombie bites a girl that Vivi is working with while she and her were patching holes in the fence, Eva cuts the girl’s arm off. The warden of the group tells Eva that she has to obey the rules and shoots the poor girl in the head. To no one else’s knowledge except the audience’s the same zombie scratches Eva.
Vivi tries to kill herself in the bathtub after this happens, but the nurse where she is staying stitches her up. She wants to attempt to find her sister, so an older man who resides in the asylum with her breaks the window and Vivi manages to get to the train that drives to Jena. The train is solar panel operated and has no conductor. Eva ends up also getting on the same train. The two travel through a world that has been reclaimed by nature for their own separate reasons and meets all sorts of interesting adversaries and friends along the way.
Without going too much further into the plot, I will say that ENDZEIT explores heavy themes such as mental illness, regret, family problems, climate change, fascist regimes and more, all under the guise of a “zombie movie”, while having some of the most beautiful imagery that’s coincided with the rise of the living dead, thanks to cinematographer Leah Striker (Silent Summer, Krieg).
Something that I usually forget when I bemoan zombie films is that while George Romero is the originator of our beloved living dead, doesn’t mean that other people can’t use the same vehicle to deliver a message about sociopolitical issues. Carolina Hellsgard, writer Olivia Vieweg and the largely all-women crew help bring forth a zombie film that both George Romero and Agnes Varda would be proud of, and that is incredibly impressive.