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  • Rev Horror

Civil War

Dir. Alex Garland (2024)

A group of photojournalists attempt to make it to Washington, D.C. to interview the President before he is captured by rebel forces during a new American Civil War.

It's been a long time since I've looked forward to a movie as much as I've been anticipating the release of Civil War. Alex Garland is a fantastic filmmaker, and while his filmography is a bit varied in watchability level, he's a brilliant new mind in cinema that has an innate ability to put what's in his head onto the screen. While Civil War may not be a horror movie per se, it's fucking terrifying at the same time due to the unfortunate potential prescience that makes it feel like more of a documentary than a narrative feature. We'll talk more about that in a bit, though.

Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and her fellow journalist Joel (Wagner Moura) are making their way to Washington, D.C. to attempt to interview the current United States President (Nick Offerman). He is holed up in the city, trying his best to survive what is looking like the inevitable takeover of the country by a united group of freedom fighters coming out of Texas and California. Lee and Joel pick up a young aspiring photographer named Jessie (Cailee Spaeny) and an old-school journalist named Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) along the way, and the quartet must try to survive the fighting long enough to make journalism history.

Surprisingly, Civil War does not dig too deeply into real-life divisions within the country. Rather than focus on the reasons the different sides are at each other's throats, the movie decides to highlight the experiences that individual people would have in a world thrown into chaos by an insular American war. While this is great in theory, and its certainly handled by Garland and his cast incredibly well, it also lacks a little bit of the bravery that viewers have come to expect from Garland's films. It's fair to say that criticizing Republicans in Hollywood is not particular daring, doing so outright in a film that you have to sell to both sides of the political aisle certainly would be. Whether the choice to leave out those critiques was purposeful in order to focus on a different area or cowardice intended to maintain an audience, I'm not sure, but it leaves out a lot of the teeth of the film when you're not sure what side is winning the war.

What limited actual critique it delivers, however, is spot on. When Jesse Plemons asks Moura's character where he's from and Moura answers that he's American, Plemons asks "What kind of American?" It's a simple line, one shown in some of the trailers, but its a fantastically worded and beautifully succinct appraisal of our entire culture as it currently exists, a sad reflection that we no longer view ourselves as more similar than we are different. The propaganda and the gaslighting done by those in power also feels accurate, layering another commentary on how this would likely actually go down. Had the film focused more on these types of exchanges, it likely would have more staying power within the cultural zeitgeist than it probably will.

Ignoring for the moment the decreasing likelihood that Texas and California would ever unite to do anything, the film does a pretty good job of showing what kind of warfare would commence if the states were to fight each other in the modern era. The guerilla tactics used in large cities, the suicide bombing in public areas, all of these things that other countries have had to experience in recent years would actually be an everyday reality for regular Americans. If that doesn't terrify you, especially because of the increasing possibility that it may actually happen soon, then you're either ignorant to our current reality or you're arrogant enough to believe you'd live through it comfortably.

Civil War is, at times, uncomfortably slow. The film turns into just as much a character study on young journalists as it does an examination of the sociopolitical structure of America, which is not a bad thing unless you're expecting something deeper or more socially important. If this were to be made by almost any other filmmaker, it would've been downright boring a lot of the time because of the relative lack of meaningful action that occurs in the bulk of the film. Thankfully, regardless of your perspective on Garland's storytelling ability, he is a stellar filmmaker, and Civil War has some of the most gorgeous cinematography that I've ever seen (and is almost unbelievably loud). There are shots in the film that are breathtaking, and the way he weaves the pictures being taken and the voyeurism of war journalism into a modern-day American exposition is fantastic. It just might not be what you came to see.

Who this movie is for: Social horror fans, American government aficionados, Walter Cronkite

Bottom line: While Civil War shies away from examining the causes of its central conflict, it's a fairly apt depiction of what war on our shores would look like. It's terrifying in scope and realism, and it's a wonderfully shot film with cinematography that will likely be up for an Academy Award. It is also boring at times, relatively lacking importance in the grand scheme of its critique, and feels a bit like a cop out when it comes to the position it takes on our current situation. It's well worth a watch, however, especially if you're someone who appreciates a director who can make a film look beautiful, which Garland does in spades with this one.

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