I am always enthralled by the possibility of a good "pandemic disease" movie, as weird as that may seem. There is something about a very tense thriller set in a world that is either coming to destruction or has been destroyed by a large virus, but this topic is understandably difficult to tackle without a very large budget. For an independent production to venture into this area, the filmmakers have to be decidedly creative. Without the ability to shut off city streets or litter the screen with dead bodies, many filmmakers struggle to craft a convincing apocalyptic scenario. This doesn’t stop numerous indie filmmakers from attempting their own take on the zombie apocalypse, but you won’t see many general plague films on the independent scene. When dealing with such diseases, doors are opened in new areas that genre-loving filmmakers might not be prepared for. There’s the tackling of science when dealing with a disease, and although true science can be glossed over, it still requires a certain amount of original thought – and it is much easier to tackle zombie movies because they have such a long history with predetermined rules. Railway Children may not be the science fiction title that will sweep the UK and then dominate the rest of the world, but it does exhibit all of the strong characteristics that I have mentioned so far. Imagination and strong writing are its jumping off points, but thankfully there is more.
Railway Children is the story of planet earth after it has been struck by a virus that only seems to affect the adult population. The result is every person outside of their teenage years becoming a confused and violent maniac before eventually coughing up their internal organs and dying away. Sisters Evie (Catherine Wrigglesworth) and Fran (Emily Forster) have survived the darkest days of this apocalypse, and now they wander their homeland of Ireland looking for scraps of food in order to survive. When they stumble upon a young girl named Alice (Justine Rodgers) who has been bullied by her supposed friends, they form a quick trio. Unfortunately, these three are tormented by Alice’s former friends and all of their food is stolen. As they try to re-acquire their food from Alice’s former allies, they enter into a strong amount of tense drama. Will they get their food back or will they even survive their run in with this violent group?
The disease itself, which is never given any sort of explicit name, is the first thing that grabbed me when watching Railway Children. The concept of a disease that only affects mature adults leaves a grand list of interesting ideas that can easily be explored. Although the filmmakers don’t delve into the subject at any length, the science behind the film is rather interesting, because of course there are huge differences between children and adults on a biological level. From bone growth to simple cellular deterioration, the idea itself seems rather simplistic from a glance, but it does provide some food for thought. Then, from a narrative perspective, the film opens up some highly unique ideas dealing with a world full of children. With no adults left to provide, one can only wonder what would happen with a society made up entirely of children. With no one having been trained to do any of the work required to keep a modern society in motion, and with very limited social maturity, how violent and impossible would "society" become? Railway Children expresses many of these ideas on a smaller scale, and it focuses mostly on the situation by keeping its eye on a small group. From one shambled household to the next, Railway Children does a fine job of avoiding the larger world, but it still inflects a much larger problem than what the film actually shows.
There is an old adage in the film business that says directors should consistently avoid working with animals or kids. Knowing the limited depths of what child actors often produce, even with a great deal of training and a director who has a ton of experience, this is a phrase that I often find myself agreeing with. Yet, Railway Children stands out as the surprising little independent film that could. Featuring a cast made up entirely of young people, with actors who are not even preteens yet and then some who are of high school age, these actors are surprisingly strong in a film that does indeed call for some difficult scenes. As one might expect of children who have all had to witness their own parental units being killed off, there is a great deal of drama involved in this story and all of these young characters are living with an excessive amount of baggage. Although there are tiny moments of insecurity from certain members of the cast, for the most part the actors are everything that their roles call for them to be. Better than the majority of performances I see on a monthly basis within adults in the independent scene, Railway Children takes a premise that could have easily fallen by the wayside due to the immense drama called for from several young people and it exceeds all expectations.
Railway Children has its fair share of problems. It at times seems to meander a bit and the narrative occasionally slows down. Many of the flashbacks in the film, mostly dealing with the children and their history, seem to slow the plot down quite a bit. Some of the flashbacks seem to take too long and could have easily been summed up without taking up a considerable amount of screen time. After only one of these flashbacks, the audience can get an idea for how horrifying their lives have been up until this point. The film needs do no further convincing. Despite this tiny grievance, everything else more than makes up for these tiny pitfalls. The intense performances, the strong ideas, the disturbing nature of the movie… this marks a very intriguing watch. It is absolutely recommended. You can read more about it at the follow blog page: http://railwaychildrenthemovie.blogspot.com