In a post-apocalyptic world, a young woman fights for survival as she recalls traumatic events from her childhood.
Short film is very rarely lacking in high concept scenarios but very few follow through with the exceptional commitment to craft displayed in this sci-fi action film, the latest from Triune Films/Film Riot and writer/director Ryan Connelly.
The film wastes no time in telling us the kind of experience we are in for from the opening shot, which sees an unidentified man driving through a barren wasteland before being repeatedly shot and crashing the car in a huge ball of flame. From that point on the film’s intensity is dialled up to 11, picking very carefully where it wants you to stop and catch your breath.
The story follows Dana (Hannah Ward), a girl who escapes captivity from the back of the aforementioned vehicle and spends the rest of the film facing down her captors in some of the most stunning action sequences (unfortunately) not seen on the big screen. We are given snippets of backstory via flashback, which provides some context as to the post-apocalyptic world in which the story takes place, seeing Dana as a child being protected by her mother, instilling her with the mantra that she repeats throughout the film “Just keep moving,”
Thematically, Dana’s mantra is the core of the story. We are not given a fully fleshed out narrative beyond “girl escapes captors and fights back” but it is her thematic and character journey that gives weight to the experience. The flashback scenes punctuate the thousand miles an hour action sequences and swing between intrigue, tension and genuine emotional stakes. We are given some compelling, intense and surprisingly heartfelt moments between young Dana (Kambry Musser) and her mother, Sam (Rachel Hendrix). The flashback scenes are used to good effect, providing not only narrative context but also character foundation.
From the outset, Hannah Ward’s intense and high-energy performance is enough to get us to buy into her situation. The masterstroke of her portrayal of Dana, however, is the understated way that Ward conveys fear and vulnerability, done almost entirely through the eyes. While only subtle visual cues, they provide a visual bridge to the little girl being protected by her mother in a world in that is completely falling apart. The ferocious will to live that drives the action throughout the film is breathed into existence by the simple and yet psychologically immersive experience of watching a mother trying to defend her child’s life and innocence but knowing she can only save one. The visceral maternal instincts brought to bear in a strong performance from Rachel Hendrix, manifest themselves in Dana’s character as she is forced to defend herself as ferociously as her mother did when she was a child.
Showing us Dana as a young girl and establishing her vulnerability as a child contrasts, to great effect, her absolute steel determination to survive as an adult. This character contrast alone is an effective storytelling device, suggesting that the life-or-death situation we are plunged into at the start of the film is clearly not the first life-or-death scenario that Dana has had to face since her childhood. With little time at his disposal, Connelly deftly world builds and exposits just enough for the audience to form a connection to the protagonist and be invested in the outcome.
An impressive tonal balance is struck between Ballistic’s Bourne-esque action sequences and its quieter, but somehow no less tense, scenes. Shot with incredible detail and precision by Chase Smith and paced to near perfection by editor Lucas Harger, the two halves of the film act as visual counterpoints to one another; one half dark, slow and deliberate with everyone except for Dana framed in darkness; and the other half frantic, high-speed, seared by harsh sunlight and fire, the threats out in the open not hidden around a corner with visuals just as deliberate as the slower moments.
The storytelling aspects of the film are well served by the scale and technical excellence that Connelly and crew bring to the table. Just about every artistic and technical element of Ballistic are of studio franchise level quality. It is not overselling the film to say that it can easily stand alongside the majority of action movies that you will have seen in the last few years.
Ultimately, Ballistic is designed to be a thrill ride. But what makes it memorable is that it does not compromise substance, be it implied narrative substance or palpable character substance. Connelly never loses sight of the fact that if we don’t care about the characters (and this film truly has no small roles) then the action and effects mean nothing. As such, with each plot twist, gunshot and explosion, the audience finds itself adopting Dana’s mantra as we will her to “just keep moving,”