Sunday, August 3, 2014

"The Last Days" (2013)

Starring Quim Guitierrez, Jose Coronado and Marta Etura
Written and directed by David and Alex Pastor
Rated R - Violence, language, nudity
Running Time: 100 Minutes

Marc (Quim Guitierrez) can't go home. No one can. For three months, Marc has lived in his office in Barcelona, Spain, where he was a computer programmer. It has been months since the onset of 'the Panic,' a strange affliction that manifests itself as deadly anxiety attacks whenever someone goes outside.

Everyone in the building takes turns going down to the basement to help dig a tunnel into the nearby subway line. Marc's goal is to get home to his girlfriend, Julia (Marta Etura). To that end, he makes a deal with Enrique (Jose Coronado) when he discovers that Enrique has stolen a GPS unit from a car in the building's underground parking lot.

Together, Marc and Enrique set out through the city's subway and sewer tunnels, hoping to make it first to Marc's apartment building to find Julia and then to a hospital in another part of town where Enrique hopes to find his ailing father.

"The Last Days," the English title for this spanish film ("Los Ultimos Dias"), is a rather intriguing post-apocalyptic adventure with a rather unique premise. What if you couldn't go outside? Literally, because going outside would kill you. The concept of worldwide, lethal agoraphobia is one that could easily turn silly, but writer/directors David and Alex Pastor have made a film that manages to skirt that danger.

The script doles out information in small doses, using flashbacks to just before the world fell apart to reveal more information about both the characters and the situation. Pacing is handled deftly, balancing character development with more action-oriented encounters. Marc and Enrique slowly learn to trust each other as their journey strips away all their expectations of what they'll find, as they're forced to rely on each other for their very survival.

The nature of "the Panic" is never explicitly told, but flashbacks often involve characters pausing to note what is happening on TV where various pundits throw out theories involving volcanic ash and biological attack.

While it mostly adheres to some expected tropes of the post-apocalyptic survival genre, the story develops its characters and their situation quite well so that it's always interesting if not totally original.

The film creates a thick sense of loss and claustrophobia. Characters inhabit a world of darkness, danger and mistrust. Coming across a stranger in the subway could mean they just want a light for their cigarette, or that they want to murder you for the meager possessions in your bag. People who have spent months in the same hallways and corridors regard a stranger with a mixture of wonder and suspicion.

The outdoors is often colorful and gorgeous, a place of wonder right out of reach... but also a place that is utterly lethal. Characters regard sunlight with fear and even leaning out the window to gather rainwater seems like a dangerous prospect. But at the same time, watching everyone attempt to catch the rain with whatever tools, buckets and receptacles they have is a moment filled with hope. It's one of the movie's strangely beautiful dichotomies.

The film's effects and production are impeccable. A frantic action sequence in a supermarket features a lengthy single-take amidst the chaos of a raid by a rival group. But for the most part, "The Last Days" excels where it deals with its characters and world-building rather than action or horror. We're emotionally invested in our two main characters, and the Pastors have made a film where we're more interested in them than in the usual action sequences such a film is bound to include.

"The Last Days" is in Spanish, subtitled in English, and streams on Netflix.

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