June 10, 2014

Movie Review: Def-Con 4

Here is a movie that probably isn't remembered by all that many people, at least outside the hardcore B movie fan. It just isn't one of those movies that has enough going for it to make it all that memorable. Still, it is one of those movies that has stuck with me over the years. I am really not sure why. There was just something about Def-Con 4 that made me really like it. It is not a movie I have watched over over, I guess that one time many moons ago was enough.

Def-Con 4 is a post-apocalyptic tale on a budget. The 1985 film from a small production company in Canada was written and directed by Paul Donovan, who made a career on low budget features, with this being considered the most notable. I have also seen Tony Randel listed as an uncredited director, although I have not been able to find any information regarding his actual input or why he was brought in. If that name sounds familiar, it should, he directed Hellbound: Hellraiser 2.

This is a movie that starts off as a somewhat realistic and rather chilling tale of nuclear war. You are not on the front lines, you are not in some war room, you are in space, watching from a distance. We are introduced to mission captain Walker (John Walsch), communications officer Howe (Tim Choate), and medical officer Jordan (Kate Lynch). These three are the crew of a NORAD satellite armed with nuclear weapons. They are a year into their one and a half year stint and we see them all wishing to go home. This includes watching Howe watching a video message of his wife.

All is going well, maybe a little boring, but then it happens. They see heat signatures of launched missiles on the ground, they get word of Def con 2 as the world gets blown up beneath them. They argue about launching their payload. It is an impassioned argument, what of the orders can't get through, what if their firing can help. It becomes moot as they are forced to fend off an attack on their position.

The next argument is about going down to the surface. What is left? Dare they risk the radiation? The argument is more emotional for Howe who receives a transmission telling him his child died from radiation. I tell you, this whole sequence feels genuine and tragic. It is not visually exciting, but the execution is quite good.

The decision to land is thrust upon them as an outside source kicks off the sequence to land. They do and not gently either. The hard landing knocks Jordan out. This is where things begin to change. We are introduced to raving gangs of cannibals, driven to this by radiation poisoning, as well as a rather nasty group led by a young fellow name Gideon, a man looking for one the last remaining safe zones.

Yes, the movie takes a rather drastic shift once the satellite lands. We are introduced to some new characters, survivalists, prisoners, and others. It turns into a tale of survival the face of overwhelming odds.

Now, Def-Con 4 is not a great movie. It is certainly cheap looking, the characters do not always do the smartest things, and there is the question of why the satellite they manned wasn't fully automated in the first place. Still, there is something about it that works and holds my attention. The first act of the movie is very effective on depicting the feelings, emotions, and conflicts you could encounter if war broke out. You are purposefully left in the dark and works very well. The rest of the film may not quite lie up to the first act, but it is still interesting to see the quickly changing world on the surface and how people take advantage of the new structure that society is forming.

The acting is mediocre, the dialogue is about the same, but what works is the atmosphere. I really bought into it. Of course, the first time I saw it was way back in the VHS era and I liked it, but had not seen it in a long time. There is the possibility I have hyped up my own viewing into something that it is not, but watching it with my current eyes, I a, sure I see it differently than I did, but I still see the worth of it. It entertains and that is really what matters.

Def-Con 4 is a movie worthy of watching by all of you apocalyptic movie lovers. Low budget for sure, but also quite endearing. It also sported some awesome VHS art, which I think was the first thing to attract me to the movie.


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