The Day, directed by Douglas Aarniokoski and written by Luke Passmore, is a taut post-apocalyptic Horror with a twist on the Home Invasion subgenre–and cannibals.
Check out my review after the jump.
Back of the Box: A group of 5 survivors, armed with shotguns, axes, and machetes, wander the back roads of a dismantled landscape looking for refuge in The Day, a terrifying look into a post-apocalyptic future. As war ravages humanity, destroying civilization and most of life on earth, the survivors realize they must do whatever it takes to stay alive. Lost, starving, and exhausted, they seek shelter in a seemingly safe abandoned farmhouse. However, while searching for food and resources, they unwittingly set off a trap signaling to their ruthless predators lying in wait to begin their deadly attack. With food and ammunition dwindling, the group must make a final desperate stand–over a 24-hour period-battling for their ultimate survival.
It’s 10 years after an unspecified global event decimated society; life in this bleak reality is a daily struggle for survival in a hostile wasteland ruled by roving clans of cannibals. The entire movie is shot with drastic contrast using lens-filters that suck 99% of the color out of everything, creating a sun-bleached effect throughout; completely devoid of vibrancy without a shred of blue sky or green grass, it looks and feels like a dead world–one where no one has even heard a bird chirp in several years. The pervasive mood is gritty, dirty, uncomfortable and foreboding.
The most famous actor in the cast is Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings, I Sell the Dead) who plays group-leader Rick; it’s the first time Monaghan plays an American. His compatriots are: Shannyn Sossamon as Shannon, Shawn Ashmore as Adam, Cory Hardict as incessantly-coughing Hennson, and smoldering Ashley Bell as the enigmatic Mary.
We don’t know the backstory but learn that the group once had 12 members; even without the details it’s pretty obvious that none of them met with a happy end. Were also told that the guys have all known each other since high school, so their bonds are strong; Shannon joined the crew years ago and tough/guarded Mary is a relative newbie. Aarniokoski hardly wastes a minute, delivering a First Act that that springs a booby-trap straight out of Saw, followed by the death of a main character (amazingly NOT the black guy) and a devastating reveal. Every member of the cast excels, skillfully delivering some very intense, emotionally-charged performances.
On the heels of shocking of Act 1, Act 2 continues with a completely unnerving intensity. Ashmore proves himself the powerhouse of the cast in a particularly excruciating, drawn-out scene where he tortures a woman he’s on the verge of executing. But Adam isn’t a bad guy–he’s distraught and overflowing with rage (quite understandably so). It’s not a completely unnecessary interrogation, and you feel for him (past traumas are revealed), but he goes way over the line. Far from being meaningless torture-porn, this illustrates the internal war Adam is waging; it’s a fight for his very humanity–and he’s clearly losing. Brilliant acting right here.
Act 2 also introduces us to an incredibly nuanced and compelling antagonist; Michael Eklund (who exceled in another gripping apocalyptic Horror: Xavier Gens’ The Divide) plays the nameless, complicated leader of the local clan of cannibals. He’s clearly a master of compartmentalization: Ruthless and murderous, but also a loving and gentle father. Eklund believably portrays a man who’s calculating and decisive, but with more than just a hint of insanity behind his eyes; he’s perhaps only one indignity away from a violent meltdown–and there’s really no doubt it’s gunna happen.
The Home Invasion saga that follows (Act 3) has all the intensity of Custer’s Last Stand, as the vastly outnumbered and under-armed survivors battle to hold their ground inside the abandoned farmhouse. It has all the suspense of classics like Straw Dogs and the recent hit You’re Next. In a brilliant bit of scripting, the characters monitor their dwindling ammunition in what amounts to a countdown to annihilation; a great way to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
Buried in the gut-wrenching violence is brilliant subtext that explores themes of atonement and redemption–and the razor-thin line that separates humans from animals. One of the lures of Apocalyptic Horror is that it forces us to ask ourselves how far we’d go, in similar circumstances, in order to survive. Could we kill–or worse? A single jar of seeds represents hope, however slim, for a better future–a better world… Unless it’s already too late.
It’s a good thing the acting in The Day is so awesome because most of the gore FX are awful. I’m vastly disappointed that the filmmakers chose to use CGI in a movie that’s otherwise so firmly rooted in physical reality–and using awesome practical FX would have been infinitely better. Straight up, it was a bad decision. CGI blood-spray looks ridiculous–even under the film’s artsy filters. And the CGI flames during the climax: Also looked unforgivably fake. It makes an otherwise serious film look, at times, completely cartoonish. Ultimately, these FX can’t help but lower the overall score of the film, which is a damn shame because otherwise, The Day is very close to excellent. Ironically, the most disturbing and effective images in the film (an injured adolescent female being cannibalized) are only seen in the mind’s eye, conveyed with vivid accuracy in well written, deftly delivered dialog (the cheapest and often most impactful effects).
Okay, the last scene was over the top, but I actually enjoyed a bit of gratuity after so much depressing action. While The Day clocks in at a sleek 84 minutes, it actually feels like we’ve endured a full 24 hours of non-stop stress and violence. Like The Road, this is a decidedly unglamorous portrait of an apocalypse, but the excellent pacing and relentless action makes for an awesome roller-coaster ride. Fans of apocalyptic Horror definitely want to put The Day on their Must-Watch lists. While it’s bleak as fuck, the human drama makes it a film that could appeal to many fans of intense, nihilistic cinema.
3 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Directed by||Douglas Aarniokoski|
|Produced by||Guy A. Danella|
|Written by||Luke Passmore|
|Music by||Rock Mafia|
|Editing by||Andrew Coutts|
|Distributed by||WWE Studios,
Anchor Bay Films
|Running time||87 minutes|