Despite notions that the 1950s were the image of idyllic Americana, the gears of change were churning. Women had entered the workforce during World War II. The roots of the Civil Rights movement continued to grow. Divorce became a more viable option. Drug culture started to grow. It’s within the waves of this changing world that Meltdown: A Nuclear Family’s Ascension Into Madness tells a story of grief and horror.
The families of two political rivals plan a dinner party for a night with a local reporter. The night is supposed to help both campaigns show their ability to reach across the aisle. Norman (William Eisman) and Ruby (Hannah Beck) struggle to hold their family together after their child went missing. Their daughter, Joan (Maleah Goldberg), secretly dates Galen (Finn Roberts), the son of Norman’s political rival. When Galen spikes the party’s food with LSD, the night shifts. Suddenly, secrets and lies begin spilling, as the night turns into a nightmare.
Meltdown does an excellent job at slowly turning up the heat on its characters. Director Colton Van Til builds a simmering tensions early in the story that reach a boiling point. Political intrigue moves to the back burner, and fraying family dynamics quickly take control. Resentment and guilt spew out of members of both families. Amplified by the drugs, the characters spiral to new insights, and their raw id emerges. Without the constraints of societal norms, their actions become more violent and frantic.
Van Til also brings out upsetting imagery to help us follow the drug trip of the characters. Bright colors and phantasmagoric visions of horror burst through the screen. Sequences of stone lighting, quick editing, and blood soaked flash across the screen. A sequence takes on a first person POV, and adds to the chaos. As characters experience different reactions to the LSD, the visual language changes. While one character may begin to suffer extreme paranoia, another experiences full body disassociation. The baggage of each character bursts through the seams and affects how we see the world as well.
While we experience an overall sense of dread, each character’s nightmares stem from their personal demons. They share some common guilt over the missing boy, repressed memories or and emotions break through the surface. Losing a child remains the most difficult experience for a family. Yet when this much anger and resentment build, it’s impossible for a family to regain its balance. This central struggle helps Meltdown: A Nuclear Family’s Ascension Into Madness stick with the audience.
While the visions are certainly nightmarish, Meltdown rarely gets scary. Instead, it allows the dramatic violence to wash the audience and create a sense of hopelessness. The guilt and anger eats away at the family. At times, the dialogue feels a little too overwritten, but on the whole, Van Til delivers on the emotional payoffs.
While Meltdown does not always land it’s moments, it shows plenty of promise for Van Til. The darkness of Meltdown will turn some viewers away, but the moral questions it proposes create unique insights. With stunning visuals, this slow burn, psychedelic horror showcase should rise up your watchlist.