By Don Simpson | August 4, 2016
This review was originally published on February 3, 2016 shortly after the premiere of Embers at the Slamdance Film Festival.
Director: Claire Carré
Writers: Charles Spano, Claire Carré
Starring: Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernández, Tucker Smallwood, Karl Glusman, Roberto Cots, Dominique Swain, Matthew Goulish, Silvan Friedman
Claire Carré’s Embers is a purely psychological, apocalyptic nightmare in which a plague has presumably caused the world’s population to lose their ability for explicit memory. An intriguing treatise on memory, Embers cleverly juxtaposes the lives of the masses who have lost their memories with a token few who figured out a way to retain theirs.
Most of Carré’s characters do not remember their names. They do not recognize the people around them or the places they inhabit. Left only with their implicit memories, the characters are nomadic, unattached to everything around them. Without their pasts, they have become eerily free. Every day is like the first day of their lives. Most accept their fate with naive serenity, but some react with anarchistic violence.
In a brilliant visualization of their timelines, a young boy (Silvan Friedman) wanders through a forest while attached to a yellow rope, resulting in a recorded trail of his zigzagging path. Upon reaching the end of the rope, he retraces his steps and the trail of rope disappears into a ball, leaving his prior movements permanently erased.
Due to their detachment, the world around them is falling apart. Buildings are rapidly deteriorating and piles of junk are visible everywhere; only the natural landscapes appear to be flourishing. If it was not for the people wandering around, the environment would appear to have been long abandoned by humans. Most interesting, photographs and other signifiers of the past are strangely absent — except for a teacher (Tucker Smallwood) who has chosen to remain at home surrounded by his books.
All the while, a father (Roberto Cots) and teenage daughter (Greta Fernández) have opted to hide in an underground bunker to protect themselves from the plague. Remaining in complete isolation for approximately ten years, they live an overtly structured life in a sterile and overwhelmingly modern environment. For the father, nothing is more important than memories; memories define who we are, and also preserve the appreciation of high culture. They remain hopelessly shackled to the past. But with no hope of the plague outside ever going away, their home is not only a museum of memories, but it is also a mausoleum.
Accented by entrancing visuals, Embers‘ existential narrative is intellectually profound. Carré (who co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Spano) has made one of the most memorable (mind the pun) independent science fiction films in the last decade.