The post-apocalyptic sci-fi story is seeing a real resurgence in film and TV in the last few years, and I couldn’t be happier about it. The only thing that makes me happier is that we’re finally getting some truly great Canadian versions of these stories. The stark desert wastelands that host the Mad Max style of the apocalypse calls to mind classic westerns with the same frontier mentality. Characters coming together to conquer an inhospitable environment and strive for freedom.
The Canadian apocalypse featured in productions like THE VAULT reflects a uniquely Canadian identity. Not just because of the snow-filled environment, but also what Northrop Frye and Margaret Atwood describe as the Garrison Mentality. Canadian stories often embody the idea of a hostile world that cannot be conquered, only survived.
This is where we find our heroes at the beginning of THE VAULT – a 10 part post-apocalyptic sci-fi web series produced in the Great White North. The series revolves around a group of survivors hunkered down in a nuclear bunker to ride out a nuclear winter, and hide from a mysterious and powerful enemy. When a recon squad miraculously finds a survivor – who conveniently can’t remember anything about how he’s survived so long on his own – it throws the entire bunker into chaos.
I will admit right away that I’m not an expert when it comes to web series, but this one attracted me with its high production values, Canadian setting, and excellent cinematography. After watching the 6 episodes that are currently available online I am absolutely hooked. Kristen MacCulloch has a commanding screen presence as General Pierce, and the scenes between her and hotheaded amnesiac Nathaniel Hale (Tyler Blake Smith) are filled with tension and chemistry.
My favourite part of the entire series though is the bunker itself. Filmed inside the famous Diefenbunker Museum (an actual Cold War bunker in Ottawa commissioned by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker in 1959) the series has a true claustrophobic feeling. The rooms and hallways all feel just a little too small. The lights just a little too dim. As much as you may know that it’s the only safe place left, you can feel the constant pressure to get out. Stretch your arms and look up to that strange alien sky.
I can definitely see the strategy of keeping episodes to 7-10 minutes in length. Each one gives you just enough story to move the plot along and get you invested, but you never feel satisfied with any particular chunk. It is designed to be as bingeable as possible, and it fully succeeds in that. It probably also helps maintain the high production value with a limited budget. I’d much prefer shorter less frequent episodes than sacrifice quality for expediency.
THE VAULT has already had some success on the festival circuit, and I can only imagine how it will go once the full narrative has been released. It screened at the 2018 Blood in the Snow Film Festival in Toronto, and is also an official selection for the Canadian Independent Film Festival 2019, Buenos Aires Webfest 2019, First Glance Film Festival Los Angeles 2019, Philip K. Dick Film Festival 2019, HollyWeb Film Festival 2019, and won the Best Webseries award at the Winter Film Awards 2019.
If you don’t want to wait to try and catch it at one of those festivals, head over to thevaultwebseries.com to watch the first 6 episodes. If you’re interested in a character-driven post-apocalyptic tale with a Canadian sensibility, I can’t recommend it enough. I’ll be patiently waiting to see how it all ends!