Massive Retaliation (1984)

Article 5119 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-27-2016
Directed by Thomas A. Cohen
Featuring Tom Bower, Karlene Crockett, Peter Donat
Country: USA
What it is: Nuclear war survivalist drama

When international tensions turn into a shooting war, three families fearing nuclear holocaust hole up in a cabin in the woods in the hope of surviving. However, things do not go smoothly, especially when it is discovered that their children have all been stranded far from the cabin…

This movie is something of a cross between PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! and DAY THE WORLD ENDED, only with less overt exploitation elements. I admire what it’s trying to do, but it’s not quite successful. I do like the basic premise, and I find the story surrounding the story (which is to say, the reports of the war itself and the ways various people react to the news) to be very interesting. It’s when the movie focuses on the central characters that I have problems; much of the dialogue is clunky, it occasionally descends into soap opera, and there are moments where the movie hits some really false notes. In particular, the character of the dictatorial doctor who is the head of the survivalists starts to come across as a caricature rather than a real person. On the other hand, I did like the subplot involving a seventeen-year-old boy’s mini-odyssey in his quest for a water pump for the van, a story that manages to be both comic and tense. This one could have been a lot better.


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