You could also call the film — directed with a slack sense of urgency by Mahalia Belo, making her theatrical feature debut, and written by Alice Birch (“Lady Macbeth”), based on Megan Hunter’s 2017 book — slow cinema’s version of a post-apocalyptic thriller. Paradoxically, not juicing up the stakes with expensive effects and emotional baloney has the effect of making the situation seem at times more, not less, dire. Comer is especially good at conveying a sense of genuine, if weirdly relaxed, panic.
Based on the premise alone, you might also be tempted to call the film a female-centric survival flick, if the term were elastic enough to encompass a movie where almost all the violence — except for a scene of armed looters — takes place off-camera yet is described in sometimes vivid detail. This is a movie about relationships, not action.
In the middle of a biblical deluge and after her (ahem) water breaks, Comer’s unnamed character heads to a hospital that is struggling to get by with emergency generators and an overtaxed fleet of ambulances. After delivering her baby, in a refreshingly unflinching scene of childbirth, the new mother and her husband, R — who, like most of the other characters, is identified in the credits only by an initial — quickly leave the pandemonium of the city for the relative calm of R’s parents’ home in the rural north. There, the rains seem less heavy. Mark Strong and Nina Sosanya aren’t around long enough in their parental roles to make much of an impression. Things go south quickly, and they aren’t pretty.
The protagonists then head for a refugee camp, where R is not allowed and where Comer’s character is befriended by another young mother (Katherine Waterston) with an infant of her own and a surprisingly sunny demeanor, given all the bad weather. After looters force the two women to flee for an island commune off the coast, they are given shelter en route by a loner with a tragic backstory, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is one of the film’s producers. As with previous scenes, this interlude feels oddly quiet and intimate: the calm in the eye of a storm.
That’s surely not by accident. Belo’s drama is a mostly interior one. If you saw Comer in the one-woman Broadway show “Prima Facie,” it will come as no surprise that the actress is up to the task of conveying what’s going on inside her character’s head.
Such deliberateness and interiority are not for everyone, even by the standards of whatever “The End We Start From” is. The story slows to a crawl toward the end, even with a scene featuring a carjacking. But in its relentless focus on Comer’s Mother with a capital M, as she is called, and her character’s almost primal determination, it gets somewhere that feels unforced and, however uneventful, real.
R. At area theaters. Contains strong language, some sexual situations and nudity. 102 minutes.