Movies · Reviews

Tear Me Apart Draws a Line Between Blood and Biology

By  · Published on June 21st, 2016

Two brothers find conflict when the last woman on Earth walks into their cave.

“There used to be things called women,” says a nameless young man (Alfie Stewart), “same as us, but different.” It started with the animals before striking humanity, and war and a breakdown in society soon followed. The younger has no memory of such a world himself, but his older brother (Frazer Alexander) has educated him as they spend their days searching for food along the rocky coast of England and waiting for their father to return. He brought his sons here to wait out the troubles while he went looking for answers, but nine years later the boys have become young adults desperately clinging to life by following father’s instructions regarding dietary restrictions and geographic boundaries.

The younger challenges the rules of the old world – as mythical a time and place to him as any fantasy land – in several ways including the non-distinction he makes between meats. He finds a stranger on the shore, suffocates him, and immediately begins to eat the flesh on the dead man’s arm. His brother chastises him – “Never people!” – but soon they have one more thing to fight over when a young woman named Molly (Jennie Eggleton) enters their camp. She’s looking for her own father and has checked everywhere but a rumored haven for survivors (well, the haven and the younger brother’s teeth anyway). The trio struggles to agree on a path forward, the brothers face physical yearnings they were previously unaware of, and nearby four armed men head their way with murder and lust in their eyes.

Director Alex Lightman’s feature debut, Tear Me Apart, drops viewers into a post-apocalyptic world that’s as beautifully shot as it is visibly miserable. Gorgeous coastal landscapes – the film was shot in England’s North Cornwall – punctuate scenes of dirty, tired, and desperate survivors doing their best to stay alive one day at a time.

Tom Kerevan’s script plays wisely with genre expectations by opening with a scene of cannibalism and exploring the act without ever reveling in the messiness of the meals. This isn’t Wrong Turn 12 or The Hills Have Even More Eyes – eating people here is a matter of survival not gory punchlines. Molly’s arrival could just as easily have turned this towards sexual exploitation or a war of the sexes, but Kerevan’s interests hold steady to a particular narrative with more than a touch of biblical undertones.

Molly’s first meeting with the younger brother, who she names Joe, sees her offering him an apple to eat. Subtle it’s not, but the knowledge she brings to the brothers’ secluded little beach – their Eden – is an acknowledgement of their own ignorance. “Boundaries change,” she tells them at one point as they refuse to cross a border established by their father years before, and they’re forced to realize the truth they’ve been avoiding. Old Testament classics give way to New Testament sacrifice and an offering of the flesh, but even as these themes weave through the film it’s never at the expense of story or character.

The motivations behind each of the three lead characters is clear, and the performances bring depth and commitment. All three do good work – Alexander balances his loyalty to a world gone by with newly discovered cravings, and Eggleton brings life to a dreary setting as she imbues Molly with both optimism and realism. Stewart meanwhile shines as the only one disconnected from a civilized world the others still remember or acknowledge. He moves with an animalistic hunch and an open mouth, and his instinct to attack or defend is preceded only by the steeling of his face with determination and violent desire, but a humanity still exists and forms before our eyes.

The film does occasionally stumble over itself in the edits as some scenes feel abbreviated or incomplete including a brief, possibly romantic swim in the ocean that’s over before it even begins and some interactions with “bad” guys that seem to end solely because our protagonists have exited the frame. In contrast, Lightman manages a couple Steadicam single-takes that work well to capture the geography of the location and scene.

Tear Me Apart is an attractive film concerned with ugly things, and just as striking as the cinematography is the score by Alex and Richard Lightman (which includes a beautiful song by Grace Lightman). The ending doesn’t exactly satisfy, but perhaps that’s fitting as it’s just as much of a beginning.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.