10th Aug2018

‘The Domestics’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Kate Bosworth, Tyler Hoechlin, David Dastmalchian, Sonoya Mizuno, Laura Cayouette, Lance Reddick | Written and Directed by Mike P. Nelson

domestics-poster

This entertaining post-apocalyptic thriller marks an auspicious feature debut for sound designer-turned-writer-director Mike P. Nelson. Essentially it’s The Road meets The Warriors, with a bit of Mad Max: The Road Warrior thrown in for good measure.

In a scene-setting prologue, we learn of an apocalyptic event, in which jet planes dumped black poison gas on America, killing half the population (so, basically, Trump’s America). The survivors quickly segregated into various cult-like groups or tribes, with names like the Sheets, the Cherries, the Plowboys, the Nailers and the Gamblers. Those who remain unaffiliated to a group are known as The Domestics, and they have to remain constantly vigilant against gang attacks.

Two such Domestics are Mark and Nina West (Tyler Hoechlin and Kate Bosworth, their shared connection to Superman presumably a coincidence), a couple on the brink of divorce who become concerned about Nina’s family in Milwaukee, with whom they’ve been communicating over CB radio. Intending to save his marriage, Mark volunteers to drive Nina several hundred miles to reunite with her family. However, they soon find themselves targeted by numerous tribes and have to resort to desperate measures to survive.

Hoechlin and Bosworth are both excellent in the lead roles, combining believable vulnerability and a resourceful toughness borne of desperation. Similarly, their on-the-outs relationship adds an intriguing note of tension that sets them apart from standard screen couples. There are a number of colourful supporting turns too, including Lance Reddick as a genial host who invites Mark and Nina to join his family for dinner, and Ant-Man’s David Dastmalchian as a homicidal, film obsessed lunatic.

Part of the appeal of the film lies in Nelson’s skilful world building and the way the details surrounding the various gangs unfold with each encounter (the creepy animal masks on the Gamblers are a particular highlight). That drip-feed of information lends the film an added air of mystery when an intended victim of one of the gangs (Sonoya Mizuno as Betsy) begins following Mark and Nina for reasons of her own.

In addition, Nelson creates a vividly realised it’s-all-gone-to-hell atmosphere and maintains a breath-taking pace throughout, packing a lot of action into a taut 95 minutes. He also orchestrates a number of exciting action sequences, aided by some impressive practical effects work, and knows how to build and pay off tension, particularly in the film’s final act.

Admittedly, The Domestics does have a few flaws, most notably a tendency to overuse the ‘someone offscreen shoots an assailant at the last minute’ trope and a disappointing lack of political edge that might have given it a bit more bite (with a little tweak it could easily have been a Purge sequel). It also bottles out of its perfect final shot, in favour of something more generic instead. Still, these are minor quibbles that won’t detract from your overall enjoyment of the film.

In short, The Domestics is a gripping, original and fully realised post-apocalyptic thriller that’s brimming with weird ideas and fun moments. It’ll be fascinating to see what Nelson does next.

**** 4/5

The Domestics is on limited release across the UK now.

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