Netflix continues the trend of adding international flavor to its movie portfolio with the French-Canadian action-thriller “The Decline”, the feature film debut for director Patrice Laliberté. He crafts a smart and competently made picture that may not have a big blow-you-away element that sets it apart, but it does manage to keep you locked in from start to finish.
The film opens with Antoine (Guillaume Laurin) leading his wife and daughter in a late-night emergency evacuation drill. This first scene hints at a pre-dystopian setting but it’s actually set in modern day Quebec. Antoine is convinced an environmental catastrophe is imminent so he leads his family in survival preparation. That includes watching YouTube videos of a middle-aged survival expert named Alain (Réal Bossé) who teaches things like storing food rations and other basic end-of-the-world stuff.
Thanks to a last-minute cancellation Antoine gets a coveted spot at Alain’s survivalist training camp. Over several days Alain will teach Antoine and five other survivalists the need-to-know essentials of self-sustainability once society inevitably crumbles. His exercises include planting crops, hunting, firearm training and (gulp) pipe bomb making. It all takes place around Alain’s isolated compound deep within his 500 acres of snowy wooded property.
Antoine and his fellow trainees get along great and all bring with them their own paranoia of choice – an economic collapse, environmental disaster, foreign invasion, (yikes) a global pandemic. They’re all pretty inconsequential because the movie doesn’t have much to say about any of it. Instead it’s much more interested in human nature and the qualities inside of us that we can’t isolate from. This comes vividly (and violently) into focus when a training drill goes terribly wrong leaving one person dead and two camps of thought on how to deal with it.
The second half of the lean 83-minute runtime is pure survival thriller territory with two sides squaring off across the threatening snowscape. Outside of Alain and Antoine, few of characters have much to offer. An ex-soldier named Rachel (Marie-Evelyne Lessard) is interesting and the unhinged militant David (Marc Beaupré) offers some wild-eyed menace. The others get a bit lost in the second-half chaos. But director Laliberté keeps us glued to the screen by ratcheting up the tension and making great use of his snowy setting.
An ambiguous title like “The Decline” may leave you wondering what to expect. The story (written by the trio of Laliberté, Charles Dionne, and Nicholas Krief) doesn’t offer much clarity. Instead the film uses its small sample-size of humanity to show that we can’t isolate ourselves from what’s inside of us. And what’s buried inside is often pretty ugly. All of that is wrapped inside of a compelling idea which turns into a fairly stock thriller. “The Decline” is now streaming on Netflix.
VERDICT – 3 STARS