2016 BFI London Film Festival Review: ‘The Worthy’

October 17, 2016 Updated: October 17, 2016

A familiar apocalyptic tale is given a new locale in which to find a fresh approach to infections and survivalist horror in Emirati director Al F. Mostafa’s rubble and dust thriller.

A father giving a strange hitchhiker a lift is warned of an impending disaster that will decimate the land, laying waste to the population and making water as scarce as life itself. Fast forward a few months and he is now barricaded in a compound with his grown children, a group of survivors, and a huge water tank, visible for as far as the eye can see, which makes them a target for bandits and other ne’er-do-wells.

When two mysterious figures show up at the gate, one a military man called Mussa (Samer Ismail), and the other a quiet, petrified woman, both pleading respite for a couple of days, they are allowed to infiltrate the group, and things immediately begin to go awry, with the group’s loyalty and will to survive tested to the limit.

Thankfully the film-makers are aware that they’re walking in familiar terrain with their vision, so strides are taken to establish characters (even if they are archetypes), whose fates become more and more telegraphed. Watch as “I’ll come with you” is offered up multiple times as the bodies mount up.

That’s an aspect in which the film is very inventive, as it becomes a cat and mouse narrative in which the traps set for the group play out like a cruel version of “The Crystal Maze.” The plane wing balancing see-saw finale is particularly inventive in its execution and moral dynamics, as is an impressive sequence in which a water tower collapses.

As well as excelling in the visual aesthetics of his world, Mostafa also makes the most of the brief running time, not allowing things to become too repetitive in what is essentially a single location movie. He also sets up further films with an ambitious, open-ended, surprising send-off that promises what would be welcome sequels.