Written and directed by David Axe, in a post apocalyptic society Dot (Sanethia Dresch) runs in an election against the incumbent mayor (Mike Amason) in the hopes of an equal division of food to their people. Also starring: Jennifer Hill, Bradley J. Petit, Darien Cavanaugh, Aaron Blomberg, Leana Guzman, Cleveland Langdale, Rachel Petsiavas and Kate Kiddo.
There have been many different versions of post-apocalyptic worlds featured in cinema from Mad Max to Snowpiercer and what a lot of them have in common is elitism, dictatorships and inequality, which is exactly what Lection dives into. The residents of this society have escaped to the woods, living off the land but with a limited few of the previous comforts, one community but with a clear hierarchy and special treatment for those favoured few. Upon opening, one of the comparisons that might come to mind is Beasts of the Southern Wild, it has a similar feel of simplicity and a society cut-off from the rest of the world, existing in their own bubble. The next inkling you may have is how closely it fits with the world of The Walking Dead, minus the zombies, but it has a slightly savage, fight for survival and reverting back to a simpler psyche style to it that feels utterly familiar, in a pleasant way. It creates that apocalyptic atmosphere with ease, from the get-go it’s strongly present without being foreboding or in your face.
Once that initial visual sets in, the next thing that undoubtedly sticks out is the lack of dialogue which may not be ideal for a modern audience who can sometimes have the attention span of a goldfish but when given a chance, it’s well thought out and works. You can see the idea that has gone into it, a society that with passing generations has put little stock in education and so they have stopped simply relying on the spoken word for communication. Granted, it does ask you to pay a little more attention but the body language of its actors fills in the gaps easily and it’s an interesting change of pace from the usual cliched writing. It’s actually quite impressive how well it can hold your attention while saying very little, because while it might not be out loud, it is still saying plenty. The idea is then expanded into their spelling, with words being cut down to their phonetic versions, rounding out their community’s leanings on physical prowess and resourcefulness rather than academic intelligence; they’re still smart but put their attentions where it counts in their world.
In fact, the film could probably be considered stronger in a lot of moments where there is no dialogue than when there is, the moments in which dramatics enter the situation are slightly weaker than when the actors are communicating with just their body language and facial cues. The scenes which ask for emotion from its actors don’t quite hit the same as the rest, they feel slightly wooden and as if the actors are trying a little too hard. However, the performances for the most part are well done, Dresch as Dot provides a good strong opposition to Amason’s Mayor and right-hand man Guff (Petit), they feel like a great balance of woman of the people and entrenched, tough leaders. The unspoken moments between Hill and Kiddo are particularly interesting, the changes in their dynamic with so little words is fascinating to watch. There are some cast members stronger than others but it’s a good mix overall and feels like a genuine ensemble film rather than belonging to one or two characters.
Very quickly Axe establishes his direction as varied, he uses a lot of different shots going from taking in the great wide open of his forest setting to close, detailed shots and it works very well to draw you into the story, giving a feeling of being involved rather than purely a spectator. He also uses a great amount of colour, not leaning too much into the greyness of being a post-apocalypse story or the darker palette of the forest setting, there’s some nice touches to add pops of colour to scenes, such as dot’s orange head scarf. Although that’s not to say that it doesn’t embrace its naturally cinematic location, there are some great shots that really take advantage of the natural aesthetic, giving the whole film a more rugged feel. There’s also a strong visible effort gone into set dressing to kick the authenticity up a notch and it works, it’s surprising that the physical effects didn’t have a similar genuine feel, the violence and injuries aren’t quite convincing enough for the head on shots but work better with cutaways and glances.
There are a couple of issues along the way, particularly in its latter moments as the ending presents as slightly too simple given the gradual build up to that moment. While admittedly it has a message of leading people in a crisis is always going to be a lose-lose situation because you can’t not be the bad guy, it’s just whether it’s worth paying that price but it’s delivered with more of a fizzle than a bang. One particular fight scene as it enters its finale almost feels silly and the direction loses that great variety and pulls too far back at moments to make you feel overly removed from events. It would have been great to see them really go for it and have all out carnage but instead it was played too safe. In that regard, it would have needed to speed up the pace for that moment to hit more effectively but with a 90-minute wait for a resolution, it sadly doesn’t pack the punch needed to befit that investment.
Lection is an interesting feature to watch in our current climate, it may even set you off into a discussion of how far America truly is from becoming a dictatorship with a leader who denies basic rights to its less advantaged citizens. Using such minimal dialogue was a big risk to take but it’s an impressive choice, if you’re willing to give it your full attention, it has plenty to say even if it’s not out loud. It’s a well thought out concept, you can see the logic that went into each aspect of this society that it has created and the location choice brings everything together. It has some weaknesses but as a whole it’s an intriguing idea that’s entertaining, relevant and a great ensemble piece.