review by Patrick Ripoll
Do we still need post-apocalyptic fiction? It's been 10 years since Obama's presidency sparked a gold rush of violent conservative survivalist power fantasies fetishizing gun ownership and protection of property at all costs. Do our visions of an America divided into harsh violent conflict have more insight to offer us? Can the shocking violence still actually shock us? Are we still amused by themed gangs, incongruously campy villains, and seemingly idyllic pockets of civilization that invariably hide some dark secret? Does this stone still bleed?
The Domestics, a new wasteland action/western/shoot-em-up from writer/director Mike P. Nelson, argues yes, it does. It's a film married to the cliches of the genre, it likes them, it put a ring on them. You have the greek chorus radio DJ and turf wars of The Warriors, the gangs of The Purge, the vehicular mayhem of Mad Max, the gun lust of every video game you ever played. It has the scavenging scenes, the friendly NPC with a sinister side, the vanquished bad guy who returns with a scar or eye-patch. Ostensibly what separates this from the pack is it's central love story of a divorced couple trying to make it work, but Mark and Nina (Tyler Hoechlin and Kate Bosworth), like most video game protagonists, are easily the least interesting people in their own story.
If I sound weary, I am. Despite that The Domestics argues the tropes are tropes for a reason and somehow I believe it. Some of it is due to Mike P. Nelson the screenwriter. There's enough genuine wit, enough odd choices, enough inspired moments that punch through the sameness. A lot more is due to Mike P. Nelson the director who, in addition to having a mastery of tone is a startlingly capable action director for a first-timer, organizing several chaotic scenes of combat that captures handheld immediacy without sacrificing clarity. In a world where shaky-cam and over-cutting rules, the man who understands basic geography can breathe new excitement into old scenarios. There's clearly real talent at work here. Let's just hope his next film can find a more compelling framework.