Movie Review - The Remnant (Portland Film Festival)

Writer-director Karmia Chan Olutade opens her musical with a quote from the Bible. That quote is, "So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace," Romans 11:5. By the end, it's obvious that Olutade is hammering home a message of hope and faith. She even puts her children on an epic journey that mimics the Exodus. The only difference is that Olutade utilizes a mostly teenage, Asian cast in a scenario where they constantly have to break every few minutes to sing and dance, or in some cases rap.

Minus the musical aspects, it's rather appropriate that this movie is having its world premiere at the 2016 Portland Film Festival because this year PDXFF is holding a 40th anniversary screening of Logan's Run (1976), as well as a 30th anniversary screening of Stand By Me (1986). Olutade's film feels like its akin to both those movies, but with gender and ethnicity changes.

Like Logan's Run, there is a dystopian future at play here, except its reminiscent of the dystopian future of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) where the sticking point is a lack of water. Olutade somewhat recreates the desert landscape. Instead of Australia, she sets her film in China. Like Stand By Me, it's all about the experiences of children. It's not a coming-of-age story. It's an adventure not unlike The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, or some comparable, young adult story.

Kayla Cao as Rumi, a teenage girl who is on the run with her young brother Ty, played by Tenzin Low. They flee through a waste land of debris and rubble from what looks like totally collapsed brick buildings, the possible aftermath of some war.

They get taken in by a group that provides them with shelter and water. Yet, in this post-apocalyptic drought, water is scarce, very scarce, and Ankhnyam Ragchaa who plays the Boss, the Immortan Joe of this world, only doles out water in drips and drabs, forcing the children to do practical, slave labor in order to even earn that.

Rumi and Ty are put to work in a dingy factory of essentially prisoners. It looks like the factory is actually a wastewater treatment facility, as it is explained that they're supplying or cleaning the water for wealthier people. This is never shown. It's simply implied that there is this huge economic divide.

Some of the songs speak to this. The children sing or rap not very greatly, but the songs are about the despair and frustration, as well as the hope of possible freedom. In general, Olutade directs the numbers as if they were MTV music videos with the kids mugging straight to the camera often. The final number is a bit heavy-handed with the messaging, but I don't see that much difference between her and what Lin-Manuel Miranda does.

Not Rated but for general audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.

Playing at the 2016 Portland Film Festival.
For a preview of films at PDXFF16, go to The M Report on DelmarvaLife.
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