Call Miguel Gomez' El Fin the anti-Melancholia. With his latest work the talented Costa Rican director of El Sanatorio takes a premise virtually identical to that of Lars Von Trier's latest - humanity discovering six months in advance that an asteroid is on a collision course with the earth - and instead of wallowing in misery creates a life affirming buddy comedy that may be a touch raw and a touch sloppy in spots but is absolutely charming throughout. It is also - and this is important - very, very funny.
The end begins when Nicolas, a twenty six year old telephone support agent already very depressed due to the sudden death of his parents, returns home one day only to have an meteor fall from the sky and obliterate his car. It turns out that this is just a precursor, an early warning of the arrival of a monstrous asteroid so large it can only be called The Destroyer which is on a collision course with the planet.
Nico reacts as many would. He turtles. He stays home, abandoning his work and his friends and refusing to answer the phone. He stays this way for six solid months until, on the day that The Destroyer is due to arrive, his friend Carlos arrives on his doorstep and cajoles him out of bed. It's the end of the world, after all, and Carlos wants to embrace it. Why just sit at home? Do something you always wanted to do but never had the nerve. What's the risk now?
And so begins a small scale odyssey, a trip to the beach the pair loved as children, a journey on which they will pick up Carlos' estranged father, Nico will declare his love to his high school crush, they will adopt a pregnant woman, survive a prison yard hostage taking and somehow form an unusual family ready for whatever may come.
Created on a shoestring budget comfortably in the five figure range El Fin is often a somewhat raw piece of filmmaking, there's no denying that. When it comes to large scale effects and massive set pieces Gomez simply doesn't have the resources to compete with Hollywood. But what he does have is an innate sense of character and a fabulous sense of humour that manages to get the big laughs while still maintaining the reality of the people at the core of his film. Carlos and Nico are guys you probably know, guys you went to school with. And despite the extreme circumstances they find themselves in Gomez never loses touch with the reality of his characters and the film becomes a very rich experience because of that.
The entire cast is very strong, all of them showing a comfort and rapport with one another that allows them to play for laughs without ever having to resort to a big punch line or cheap gag. The comedy comes out of the characters, their journey and their gradual transformation as they make their way to the beach where they remember being happy as children. Carlos and Nico are both likeable, even lovable, characters and their relationships with the people around them rich and nuanced.
Gomez has an unusual gift as a writer, an ability to catch the moments that really matter in his stories coupled with a trust that letting those moments play as they would in real life without inserting a big flashing sign saying THIS IS IMPORTANT or LAUGH NOW is the wise way to go. Those same tendencies were present in El Sanatorio as well, and are a big part of what elevates that film above the rest of the found-footage pack, but he seems even more sure of himself here and his confidence is well placed in a cast that consistently proves him right.
Sure, El Fin has its limitations. No doubt about that. But it is ultimately a film about people and relationships and none of those are affected by the budget limits whatsoever. A little bit raw, a little bit scrappy, El Fin is one hundred percent charming and often laugh out loud funny. And that makes it a winner well worth seeking out.
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