Nomads (1986) — Before Predator and Die Hard

“Did you ever have a dream and not know when it started?”

ZombieDog’s rating: Perfect movie for a still summer night.

ZombieDog’s review: Nostalgia is a drug. Nostalgia will cause you to miss remember, edit, or otherwise exaggerate your recollection. It is a concept for psychologists and philosophers to muse over, and, in general, the idea is that those who engage in nostalgia are doing so to remember good times or good feelings.

In no small way is nostalgia part of the love of B-movies and cult films. I still remember going to the drive-in and seeing a double feature: Return of the Living Dead and The Stuff. In my mind, neither one of those movies have been diminished by time, nor have I forgotten the first time that I saw them. My fear is that I will only remember those movies and not seek out new experiences.

This is where nostalgia can be dangerous. The love of movies to me is the love of storytelling. While it is fun to revisit stories that we’ve experienced before, it’s also nice to find new stories. That being said, let’s talk about the ’80s, because it was awesome!

One of the most wonderful things about the ’80s was how filmmakers so readily took chances. Some of my favorite movies from the era offer the ability to enjoy them on multiple levels, such as a movie that can be enjoyed at a drive-in with friends or by yourself. Even better are ones that offer an action thriller on the surface with chunky ideas to chew deeper in. Nomads (1986) is one of those films.

The story is about a French anthropologist Jean Pommier (Pierce Brosnan) who moves with his wife Veronique (Anna Maria Monticelli) to Los Angeles after 10 years in the field. Initially the move seems ideal, but it doesn’t take long for things to get strange. The very first night they spend in their new house street punks party and smash things right next to their home. It’s unsettling and Jean decides to go and figure out just who these street punks are.

Nomads is told in a nonlinear fashion from a ER Doctor Flax’s (Leslie-Anne Down) perspective. At the beginning of the film, Jean is in the emergency room all cut up and bleeding, he is clearly traumatized and only speaking French. The doctor is doing her best to calm him down, but in a fit of adrenaline induced fear and rage, he breaks free and whispers something into her ear. Shortly after that he dies. For reasons unknown this causes her to begin having visions about what Jean experienced in the hours before his death.

The aspect of parallel storytelling does make the film a bit difficult to understand because we’re never really certain where we are in the storyline. Both the past and the present are happening simultaneously, and it is confusing as to what is ultimately real. This is a minor criticism and is easily overlooked because the story is captivating.

Jean initially calls the street punks “nomads.” He says that they are constantly moving and never in one place. They do not participate in society, there are no constraints, and they are violent without hesitation. To the official world they do not exist. Soon it becomes clear that something far more sinister is going on. Because of the simultaneous nature of the story being told, with the anthropologist and the doctor, we are fed information from both perspectives. Flax makes discoveries on her own and is told that there is a myth about hostile spirits thought to inhabit places of past calamity bringing disaster and insanity to any who encountered them.

Nomads is very loose with continuity, reason, and — to a certain extent — cohesion. It is fair to say that these aspects were sacrificed to create a truly atmospheric film that is trying to tell a different kind of story. One of my favorite facets about this film is the idea that there could be layers of reality with events going on around us that were completely unaware of. More than that though, there could be entire groups or cultures hiding in plain sight.

This is not a film that would be shown in film school or be subject to an academic deep analysis. However, it is definitely a film it’s worth your effort because it holds up in my opinion. Sure, there are a couple of times when you could say to yourself, “If they had a cell phone, things would be different,” but technology doesn’t really enter into the story that often. We’re still dealing with a supernatural thriller. On top of everything, this is Brosnan’s first movie role, and he is giving it his all.

Nomads is an absolutely entertaining movie. It’s a suspenseful thriller that delivers on almost all levels. More than that though, it holds up after almost 40 years. There are virtually no special effects, and the movie itself is primarily story driven. It would be interesting to see a honest and motivated remake. I think some of the spirits could look a little different or behave in more exotic ways. It’s not a deal-breaker though and doesn’t affect my recommendation that all. This is a great movie to watch with a small group of friends.


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