Radioflash movie review: it’s got no juice

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Radioflash red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Inept post-EMP survival thriller is no more thrilling than it is plausible, and inexcusably casts its resourceful teen heroine as a victim constantly at the mercy of others and in need of rescuing.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for movies about girls and women; big SF fan
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

When an EMP attack takes out the entire western United States, teen Reese (Brighton Sharbino) and her dad, Chris (Dominic Monaghan: Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), flee their city before all apocalyptic hell can break loose and head to join grandpa Frank (Will Patton: Halloween, Megan Leavey) in his survivalist bolthole in the Pacific Northwest mountains. The journey… doesn’t go well.

First big problem with Radioflash, the second feature from writer-director Ben McPherson: What is depicted here is not how an electromagnetic pulse works. An EMP wouldn’t merely cause a big power outage and it is most certainly not the case that electronic devices like iPads that aren’t plugged into the wall would be spared. All unshielded electronics — which means pretty much anything outside of specific laboratory conditions or military installations — would be irreparably fried. There would be no traffic jams getting out of the city, as Reese and her dad encounter here, because most cars simply wouldn’t start; cars less than a quarter of a century old are crammed with electronics. (The roads would be clogged with cars that conked out during the EMP and couldn’t be restarted, but that’s not what we see here.) There would be no using the flashlight on your iPhone, because your iPhone would be beyond bricked.

Radioflash Will Patton
Ham radios would probably still work after an EMP, so that’s one thing Radioflash gets right, at least.

And yet, this is the least of the problems with this inept survival thriller, which is no more thrilling than it is plausible. Reese is introduced to us in the opening sequence as she plays an extremely realistic VR game at an elaborate e-sports arcade; Radioflash is clearly set in the near future, though otherwise the movie looks like it’s happening today. This narrative gambit can serve one of two purposes, or possibly both. It could be here to demonstrate that Reese is a smart kid who is calm under pressure and with a terrific problem-solving brain, and hence someone well equipped to navigate the troubles she will encounter as civilization collapses around her. Which would be great if she got to continue to exhibit such talents. But after a bit of early resourcefulness, Reese is inexcusably cast by McPherson mostly as a victim constantly at the mercy of others and constantly in need of rescuing. *yawn* This is not a portrait of a teenaged girl we need right now. Or ever.

The other possibility is that everything that happens here is simply part of another VR game that Reese is playing. (The creepy old longhaired man whom Reese keeps glimpsing in places where he couldn’t possibly be and who is a sort of harbinger of death: he definitely feels like something out of a game.) I won’t tell you if that’s the case, but whether it’s a game or real, nothing saves what descends even further into a mess of outrageous clichés. It’s all just a big lazy waste of time.

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