“There will be less bread tomorrow.” — Mayor (Mike Amason)
How society might look if our modern global civilization ceased to exist has been a topic in cinema since at least 1916’s The End of the World, but arguably arrived in its best-known form with 1951’s Five. Many of these thrillers, which also include the zombie and pandemic subgenres, are, of course, less serious extrapolations of what future history might look like than they are Swiftian satires offering a remote look at contemporary issues.
Such is Lection, an independent feature directed by former war correspondent David Axe, featuring some local talent and shot near the town of Ridgeway, South Carolina. Also on Axe’s resume is the screenplay for 2017’s locally produced The Theta Girl, directed by fellow Columbia filmmaker Christopher Bickel, as well as the screenplay and direction for 2018’s Azrael and 2019’s Shed.
After a brief and more contemporary prologue, the main body of Lection occurs some 25 years after an unspecified catastrophe has collapsed modern civilization. Whether this collapse is worldwide or local remains unknown, as Axe opts not to discuss the how and why. His purpose is to analyze the brutality of the post-apocalyptic political process, and by extension the viciousness of our own. In this world, “cut-throat politics” and “running for office” are more than just sayings.
The central controversy is between the village elder, known only as Mayor (Mike Amason), an entrenched ruler supported by a close crew of muscle, and a lady named Dot (Sanethia Dresch), too young probably even to remember the world as it was, who resents the brutality of the current regime, especially in dealing with the apportionment of, apparently, the village’s primary and single staple: bread.
Except in Lection, it’s spelled b-r-e-d, because apparently the Next Gen who will inherit the Earth, including Dot, are losing their literacy, which is why the film isn’t called Election. It reminds me a bit of the evolution of language among the feral orphans in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. But b-r-e-a-d or b-r-e-d, my primary criticism of the movie is that, for a community low on food, hardly anybody seems to be doing any work. I don’t see any fields, any vineyards (although the village does seem to have a steady supply of jam to go on that bread), yet they have a distillery and a marionette theater, as well as a foundry to smelt new sharp-edged weapons (though nobody seems to be doing any hunting), and people seem primarily to pass their time attending drum circles. Priorities, I guess.
But I have a secondary and more pointed criticism. While I like the character of Mayor and appreciate Amason’s restrained performance (he reminds me a little of Michael Parks, especially as the patriarch in Kevin Smith’s Red State), the primary dynamic doesn’t seem to be between him and challenger Dot, but between Dot and Kat (Jennifer Hill), the latter being one of Mayor’s enforcers, and pretty much the only henchman with any sympathetic development. Dresch and Hill are charismatic enough to carry the film, and the movie flounders a bit when it strays from its focus on their two characters.
Aside from his starring trio of Amason, Dresch and Hill, one of Axe’s chief assets is a musical score by Matt Akers and Gauge Santiago, featuring an overriding percussive motif suggestive of civilization’s breakdown into tribalism as politics become increasingly more barbaric.
Thank goodness today’s society doesn’t have to deal with that.