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Chilling dystopian film depicts brutal future ‘too horrendous to be set in the UK’-Andrew Gaudion-Entertainment – Metro

Kirsten Dunst and Alex Garland discuss the politically charged thriller.

Chilling dystopian film depicts brutal future ‘too horrendous to be set in the UK’-Andrew Gaudion-Entertainment – Metro

Kirsten Dunst stars in the new thriller (Picture: A24)

Alex Garland – the filmmaker behind cerebral sci-fi’s Ex Machina and Annihilation (and the writer of 28 Days Later) – brings audiences a terrifying vision of the future with the politically charged dystopian thriller Civil War. 

In the film, a Second Civil War has broken out in the United States, leading to conflict across the country as the Western Forces look to take on the loyalist US states and take out the President (Nick Offerman), the individual seemingly behind the divided nation and whose actions led to the outbreak of violent warfare. 

We see this version of a United States at war with itself from the perspective of a team of journalists; photographer Lee (Kirsten Dunst), reporter Joel (Wagner Moura), their mentor Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and young aspiring photographer Jessie (Cailee Spaney).

Together, they head out on a dangerous road trip across these new ‘United States’ to make it to Washington as the Western Forces close in on the White House.

It is a film that keeps the exact reasons for the division and breakout of war deliberately vague.

Still, its many moments of bleak, bloody and brutal warfare – where many atrocities are committed in terrifying detail – can’t help but conjure up imagery seen in recent headlines as two conflicts rage across the world in both Ukraine and Gaza, as well as reflecting political division across the US in what is a election year.

Speaking with, writer-director Garland delves into the inspiration behind his dystopian tale that keeps its feet in grounded real-world imagery. 

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‘I’m a genre writer. So I work within some genre or another sci-fi, horror, thriller, whatever it is. I’m always using something I’m interested in, what’s happening at that moment, which could be to do with technology, or just something that is occurring at that time, that for some reason, sort of provokes a set of thoughts and responses, and then turning that into a story,’ says Garland. 

‘So this is just like all the others really – reactive is the right word.’ 

Garland, 53, is an English filmmaker born in London who broke onto the scene as a novelist with such hit novels as The Beach and The Tesseract, before making the jump to screenwriting with Danny Boyle’s iconic zombie movie 28 Days Later. 

With the UK facing its own politically divided times in recent history, we posed the question to the British-born writer; was there ever a version of this story in his mind that took place in the UK?

The film imagines a future where a second civil war has broken out in the US (Picture: A24/AP)

‘I did actually think about it in the UK at some points. There’s one part of the story which is about journalism, and the function of journalism and the nature of journalism, just things to do with journalism. And that could absolutely apply in the UK or the US or many, many other countries.

‘It’s also a story about polarisation and populism. And that could absolutely also apply here. But I think the way I look at it is something like if the planet Earth is a big mattress, if the UK rolls over on the mattress, it’s like if you have a baby sleeping next to you, and it rolls over, and you don’t really notice, if America rolls over the whole mattress sort of shifts. And we look to and when I say we I mean pretty much the world looks to America sees what’s happening, understands things about American politics, sometimes that we don’t even understand about our own country. So it made sense in all sorts of different ways to set it there,’ he explains.

The British-born filmmaker has said he is stepping away from directing in the future (Picture: Amy Sussman/WireImage)

Following Garland’s trend of featuring a female lead after the likes of Annihilation and Men, Kirsten Dunst plays Lee, the experienced photographer who has become jaded by the horrors and war crimes she has witnessed over the years, once in countries so far away from home but now happening on US soil.

The Spider-Man star,  41, jumped at the opportunity to work with Garland, who she points out doesn’t make a ton of movies, with the filmmaker previously telling The Guardian he plans to step away from directing.

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‘I just love his way of seeing the world. His films are just so unique,’ she tells 

Reading the script was a pulse-pounding experience for the Oscar-nominated star, who has been acting since she was seven years old: ‘I was completely at the edge of my seat’ she says.

‘And not really reading for my role; I kind of was just reading it as this movie that was making me feel, you know, it was a page-turner, you know, it evoked a lot of feelings in me.’ 

To get into the headspace of Lee, Dunst turned to several documentaries and movies as inspiration, naming the Marie Colvin documentary Under The Wire as ‘one that spoke to me the most about what Lee was like for me, and what she experienced.’ 

Dunst stars as war photographer Lee (Picture: A24/AP)

Garland echoes this sentiment, with the film drawing on imagery from documentaries and footage news, observed or found things. 

One case of this ‘found’ approach to the visual storytelling led to something of a happy accident when it came to shooting one of the film’s tensest sequences at an abandoned Winter Wonderland fair, as that set was not designed, it was found. 

‘We were driving through Atlanta looking for locations and we just came across them, abandoned by the side of a road. Someone had put on a kind of Christmas fair. Christmas had been months and months ago. The person that put it on went bankrupt and just left their stuff there to the annoyance of the farmer who then had all this crap strewn around his fields. And we said we’ll use that and pay for its disposal, so let us take that on,’ he explains. 

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While it was a happy accident, finding that set also directly relates to the imagery in the film being either grounded in the ‘real world or has a real-world parallel,’ he says. 

‘And I think one of the things about the real world is that it’s in a way it’s stranger and more surreal than people typically think it is. And things that may look very constructed were actually just found.’

Garland also allowed his cast the space to rehearse and bond, referring to his core cast as ‘The Car’ throughout production. 

‘By the end of those two weeks of rehearsal, we were friends. And everyone was very generous in spirit and acting and very loving. We had a very kind group of actors, we all really loved each other and really had each other’s back in terms of the work’ says Dunst. 

That was particularly the case when it came to her young co-star Cailee Spaeny, with the mentor-mentee relationship in the film between Lee and Jessie very much reflecting in real life on set. 

Alex Garland with the cast Nick Offerman, Cailee Spaeny, Wagner Moura, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Jojo T. Gibbs attend the Los Angeles Premiere of’ Civil War (Picture: Amy Sussman/WireImage)

Cailee Spaeny stars alongside Dunst as an inexperience photographer keen to learn from her idol (Picture: A24/AP)

‘It was very natural’ Dunst explains. ‘We didn’t really have to think about it so much because it naturally happened between us. We both really, really bonded and loved each other immediately, Cailee and I, so it was very effortless.’ 

Spaney, 25, who had already worked with Garland on his TV show Devs, went on to star in Priscilla shortly after production on Civil War, and it was Dunst who recommended the young star to filmmaker and regular collaborator Sofia Coppola, according to IndieWire.

Ahead of its release on April 12, Civil War has already been praised by critics for the provocative, sensory and frightening experience that it is following its SXSW premiere last month. 

Much of that provocation comes from how grounded the action feels, driving home to a chilling degree just how much this reality is far from far-fetched.

While Garland says that there is some anger in the film and that it can be viewed as a cautionary tale in that respect, Dunst is a little more optimistic about what she hopes people will take away from the experience. 

‘It is the type of movie that you see and it really does evoke so much out of whatever, however you perceive things or conversations,’ she explains.

‘I think that this movie is very important because of that, you don’t really get those experiences from the theatre much. And for me, the film weirdly, left me hopeful as well. I think it’s really about humanity, and what happens when people start seeing each other that way, and not listening to each other and extreme polarisation. And I think that this puts things in a perspective that yeah, will get a lot of people talking.’

Civil War is out in cinemas from April 12, 2024

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