There’s a lot of people out there in the world today focused on surviving the inevitable apocalypse. People are stocking up on 5-gallon buckets of legumes and are fortifying their basements or storm cellars. Radio personalities are selling you multi-packs of MRE’s and discounts on all the nutrient pills that you will need after the global system collapses. I even saw an ad on Facebook for a bomb shelter kit I can assemble at home for the low-low price of $19,750. What none of these ads talk about is what happens to you and your family after you have survived. What if simply surviving isn’t enough?
Mike P. Nelson’s first feature film The Domestics takes a look at what happens after we leave our affordably priced bunkers and face a world that is full of other survivors.
The Domestics focuses on Mark and Nina, a married couple from Two Harbors, Minnesota played by Tyler Hoechlin and Kate Bosworth. They are loading up the car and heading south in an attempt to reach Milwaukee and the home of Nina’s parents. We can tell right away that there is something very wrong with this relationship. They are cold to one another, with Mark even claiming to his friend that he doesn’t want to make this trip at all. Nina seems disinterested in anything Mark has to say and, at times, doesn’t believe that he can do anything to help her get to the safety of her parents.
To set up the ominous tone for the rest of the film, Mark’s friend mentions the dangers they will be facing over the next 200 miles. “You get one flat tire and you’re dead”, he says to Mark before they leave. It turns out that he is absolutely correct, for the countryside is divided up into territories of several different gangs. The Sheets (who dress like ghosts), Plowboys (pretty self-explanatory here, they drive around in giant plows), Gamblers (who leave everything up to chance, even going so far as to set up a casino of sorts where they play cards and Russian roulette) and The Nailers (who wear gnarly Mad Max-style headgear and seem hellbent on causing as much pain and sorrow as possible). Our protagonists must weave their way south-east through Wisconsin farmland occupied by these vicious gangs.
The film, which was actually shot in New Orleans, is filled from start to finish with gorgeous shots of a world that has been left behind. Streets are empty, homes are abandoned and vehicles are left to rot in the rain and sun. Mark and Nina hole up in an empty home for the night only to find that the previous owners were brutalized and killed in their own bed. Red splatters and streaks cover the walls like Pollock was using their life’s blood to create an imitation Kandinsky. As they sleep, a couple of Nailers enter the home looking to take Nina. Mark tries to calm Nina down in the attic, asking her to say “We’re going to be alright”. She looks Mark dead in the eyes and simply says “Be careful”. She doesn’t believe in him or in his ability to make things “alright’. It’s a small moment in the film, but it says everything you need to know about just how broken their marriage is.
As Mark and Nina travel on from that encounter, they run into another survivor in an abandoned grocery store. He invites them over to dinner as his son obliterates a gang of Sheets with a machine gun. It’s a stark juxtaposition of friendly neighbor-manners and body-decimating automatic gunfire. This stranger is named Nathan (Lance Reddick) and he brings the couple over to his home where his wife and two kids eat and play. They drink some wine, eat a casserole, and discuss what exactly it means to survive and what lengths you must go to keep those you love safe. Nathan and his family have a dark secret hiding beneath the banter and coloring books. What looks like the perfect American family is not what they claim to be. Or are they? Nelson uses this section of the film to force his audience to explore the limits to their humanity in such a beautiful way. He forces you to ask yourself some seriously existential questions that work on your brain a lot longer than you expect in an action/horror film.
“Good people didn’t survive… We did.”- Nathan
The final act of The Domestics is something glorious to behold. After a run in with some Gamblers, Mark and Nina are holed up in her parent’s subdivision in Milwaukee. Unfortunately for them, the gang has followed them and they bring down holy hellfire on those tranquil streets. What follows is a non-stop, chaotic scene where you are in the middle of the action from start to finish. You start to feel yourself dodge and weave in your seat as the couple fight back against those that mean to destroy and obliterate. Nelson was able to get more on screen in those 20 minutes than most directors can with 10-times the budget and twice the time.
The film isn’t all doom and gloom, however. David Dastmalchian makes a wonderful appearance halfway through the film as film-obsessed psychopath Willy Cunningham. This southern bell of a young man travels across the country with his giant friend chained to his side making others fight for his entertainment. It’s a fun respite from the stressful trek Mark and Nina are going on.
The Domestics is a post-apocalyptic love story that is filled to the brim with blood, guts, brutality and hopefulness. In this world we live in today, we oftentimes find ourselves avoiding the things we love in the name of making it through to the next day. We cut people out of our lives so that we don’t have to hear about how great they are making America again. What this film forced me to ask myself is, without these human connections, without love, what is the point of surviving at all? We live in a nasty world, maybe not as brutal as the one in this film, but it’s close. So, instead of retreating and hiding in our own echo chambers, how can we use love to make it a world worth living in?
Mike P. Nelson proves in this film that he has an eye for gorgeous visuals and he knows how to deliver bombastic action on a tight budget. He is definitely a director to watch moving forward. There are some plot points that didn’t any make sense to me and the conclusion is a little mind-boggling, but overall The Domestics is a film that should be seen and enjoyed for exactly what it is: a blow-it-to-smithereens shoot-em-up that is also an exploration of what it means to be human and what we need in our lives to make survival worth it.
You can check out The Domestics in select theaters or on VOD. Once you’ve had a chance to see it, hit us up on our Facebook Group, Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street, and let us know what you think! While you’re at it, bookmark our homepage at NOFS to stay up to date with the finest horror news, reviews and retrospectives the internet has to offer!