Bottom Shelf at the Video Store: The Last Days

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Film * David and Àlex Pastor * Agoraphobia Apocalypse * 2013

Synopsis

I seem to keep inadvertently choosing foreign films lately. That’s fine, I can read. The only real downside is that the establishing shots remind me that I am woefully under-travelled and that it would be really nice to visit Barcelona. Preferably not during a mysterious apocalyptic event, and maybe not during social unrest due to Catalonian independence politics. The Last Days, not unlike The Midnight After, takes advantage of its setting to create, if nothing else, a lovely apocalypse. That said, The Last Days is in pretty much every way a stock-standard post-apocalypse film. There’s not a lot of weird shit happening here, there’s no bonkers music video in the middle for no discernable reason. And that’s actually a shame, because this film could use a bit of extra strangeness, or something, for it to stand out.

The Last Days begins with a group of survivors huddling in a cubicle farm office building. There’s no explicit apocalyptic event shown, but from the exterior shot we can see abandoned streets and a few fires, so you know bad shit happened. The survivors have already implemented rationing of food and water, and we are quickly shown a concentrated effort to tunnel from the parking garage to the adjacent subway tunnel. From this we can piece together that to go outside is to invite your own death. Who knows why, but everyone seems to go to great pains to remain indoors. The protagonist is an ex-programmer named Marc. His life is your typical bummer of being an overworked office drone. The film would very much like to remind you that office drudgery is dehumanizing. Marc spends the entirety of the film trying to get back to his girlfriend, Julia. Of course, this is made more difficult when you can’t go outside.

Lucky for old Marc, there’s a dude in the office with a shiny new GPS which still works. Whatever the cause of the apocalypse, most of the city’s infrastructure is still intact, except for the cell network (which is weird, considering that for most of the movie the power grid is still intact). This dude, Enrique, is a bit of a dick. Before the shit went down, he was the guy HR sent to out to the office to fire people. The film spends some time with flashbacks to provide context for the apocalyptic event, and there’s a scene with Enrique grilling Marc about his lack of performance. Enrique is not a pleasant guy, but honestly everyone in this movie is rather grim. I know, I get it, it’s the apocalypse. There are a few attempts at levity as the film progresses, but for the most part it seems the filmmakers were leaning toward a grim intensity for the overall tone. Which, whatever. Anyway, Marc and Enrique eventually team up in order to navigate the tunnels and sewers of Barcelona as they search for their respective loved ones. Things go poorly. Post-apocalypse stuff happens.

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Even the title is super generic and dull. Barcelona is still pretty, though.

Discussion

If I seem down on The Last Days, it’s only because I’m disappointed it doesn’t try for something new, and doesn’t otherwise stand out in a crowded field. It’s a perfectly competent movie. It’s shot well, the actors seem to hit what they’re going for, and the narrative makes sense. It’s just that I’ve heard this story before. If there’s a big checklist for post-apocalyptic stories, The Last Days was pretty thorough in checking every box. Intense, sweaty, rumpled but determined leads? You got it. Scary might-makes-right would-be warlords threatening violence? Oh you know it. Shots of abandoned traffic jams? You bet! Makeshift primitive weapons used to hunt rats? Yup. Escaped zoo animals popping up as a “surprise?” Obviously. Do characters become so despondent that they want to kill themselves? Indeed. Are there wistful moments of remembering the unsullied past? Uh-huh. Tribes of survivors making makeshift forts in a supermarket? Yepper, that’s a roger. Everything that happens in this movie, almost without exception, is a common element of the genre. That doesn’t make the film bad by any means, but it does make it rather uninspired.

The only real difference between this and any other post-apocalyptic story you’ve ever seen is the actual apocalyptic event. Not unlike The Midnight After, there is no concrete reason given for the event. There are half-assed guesses for the apocalypse given, from a volcanic eruption to an escaped virus, but we never really know for sure because it’s not terribly important. The focus of this kind of story is on how the survivors make do in the situation given. The twist here, if you want to call it that, is that people can’t go outside. The apocalyptic event is known as “The Panic,” which seems to be some kind of fatal agoraphobia. In the beginning it seemed to strike at random, until it either killed you or drove you indoors. That doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, but whatever, it’s a plot device meant to keep the characters indoors. This limitation seems like it could make The Last Days stand out a bit more, but all it does is ensure that the aforementioned tropes happen in building instead of out in the open.

Now that I think about it, the fatal agoraphobia angle could have worked with a few tweaks. Instead of relying on heavily used elements of the post-apocalypse, I think a focus on the psychological effects of being trapped inside for the rest of your life would be super interesting. The tension between cabin-fever claustrophobia and the certain death of being under the open sky would have been something different. The film never capitalizes on this, however. While some of the film takes place in the train tunnels and the sewers, most of the action takes place in open, airy, sunlit buildings. While this is more visually interesting (sewer levels are the worst, am I right?) the opportunity to examine the dire effects of being trapped inside is lost. Also, the story isn’t really concerned with this aspect of the situation. The story could have been set years after the event, with characters determined to go outside again, or something like that that. But no. Like about a million other apocalypse stories, the whole narrative is a character trying to find another character. That’s it. Enrique helps before predictably dying a hero. In the end, Marc and his family live a new kind of life far removed from office drudgery, blah blah blah. I admittedly lost interest towards the end, when it became readily apparent the film was happy doing the same old thing.

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