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Sunday, February 4, 2018

THREADS -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

One of the most rigidly uncompromising and dramatically brutal films you'll ever see, the BBC production THREADS (Severin Films, 1984) is the result of director Mick Jackson and writer Barry Hines' desire to present the effects of thermonuclear war on humanity in the most harshly realistic manner, both visually and thematically, as possible. 

It was beaten to the airwaves by the American Broadcasting Company's TV-movie THE DAY AFTER (directed by STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN's Nicholas Meyer), a film I like a lot but which, in comparison, only went about halfway in conveying the true horrors of an utterly ravaged post-nuclear society.

Now, of course, THREADS is rightly recognized as the true pinnacle of its kind, presenting, despite a budget of only half a million pounds and a shooting schedule of little over two weeks, what is with little doubt the most nightmarish, frightening, and ultimately disheartening film ever produced for television. 

Elements contributing to this include a cast of unknowns and a shooting style reminiscent of the British "kitchen sink" drama, showing everyday people going about their lives before and after the catastrophe which obliterates the very civilization upon which they depend for their survival.

Much early emphasis is placed upon simple comforts and joys of modern life, shot in extreme close-up inserts--a colander of fresh peas rinsed in clean water, a tin of cat food being opened, a handheld video game, a cold glass of milk, crocheting, etc.--things which we take for granted until they're all gone.

Everyday life itself is depicted through two families--one lower class, the other well-to-do--joined together by the love of a son, Jimmy Kemp (Reece Dinsdale), for a daughter, Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher), engaged to be married due to her unexpected pregnancy. Their playful romance and optimistic plans for a simple but happy life together are darkened by an impending world-crisis situation growing increasingly troubling as constantly portrayed on TV and radio news. 

With the situation reaching a flashpoint, we see how local government and civil defense measures would be activated in the event of a nuclear attack.  Nobody really knows what they're doing and it all seems rather ineffectual, as will soon be proven out.  Meanwhile, the expected run on supermarkets and inevitable price gouging heighten the sense that the threads of civilization are in the first stages of unraveling at the seams.

As THREADS begins to weigh more heavily on the viewer, a dispassionate narrator delivers exposition concerning inexorable world events and the effects impending nuclear war will have on resources, infrastructure, utilities, and basic human needs. 

Even the teletype sound effect that accompanies the on-screen text becomes more and more unsettling. Before long, the film has established a sense of foreboding that increases with every new scene of panic and desperation as people grasp in vain for ways to avoid or escape what is coming.  The pleasures of everyday life we've been shown earlier are slipping away, replaced by fear and despair.

That's when the bombs hit and THREADS dials it all the way up to eleven with an almost fiendish resolve.  Despite the lack of expensive and elaborate special effects, the nuclear devastation is shown in  extremely graphic terms as director Jackson creates harrowing images that haunt and terrify.  What follows comes as close to depicting the unimaginable as any film has ever achieved.
The rest of THREADS details the eventual breakdown and disintegration of every aspect of civilized society and a return to the Dark Ages (or worse) with millions of unburied dead, radiation sickness and other deadly diseases sweeping the dwindling populace, rampant starvation, and the oncoming effects of the darkening deep-freeze of nuclear winter. 

We follow what's left of our main characters as they struggle, and mostly fail, to survive on an almost purely animal level.  The story pulls no punches whatsoever and, considering the filmmakers' limited resources, is masterfully realized in harshly effective visual terms and a narrative that's utterly riveting until the final, heartbreaking image sends THREADS off on a haunting and unforgettable note.

The Blu-ray disc from Severin Films is in the original full-screen with 1080p HD resolution (in other words, it looks a lot better than the copy I taped off the TV in the 80s) and English mono sound with subtitles.  A stocked bonus menu consists of director's commentary, a recent interview with actress Karen Meagher ("Ruth"), interviews with the film's director of photography and production designer, an interview with film historian Stephen Thrower, and the US and re-release trailers.

I first saw THREADS in the mid-80s when it was picked up by Ted Turner for broadcast on his TBS Superstation. Both as an unremittingly grim cautionary tale and a powerful documentary-style drama/horror film, it has lost absolutely none of its power. 

Order it from Severin Films


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