Disaster / apocalypse films can be tricky. How much time do you spend on explaining the disaster? Do you investigate and examine the causes and symptoms? Do you give a cursory look at how the world got in trouble and concentrate on action that has little to do with it? Alex Pastor and David Pastor's The Last Days
attempts to do a little bit of both, though its success is mixed. The production value is excellent, it keeps a steady pace, and there are both good quiet moments and excellent action scenes. But unfortunately it also falls too often into Hollywood sentimentalism, and with the exception of the unique cause of the disaster, doesn't explore deeper meanings or tread any new territory.
Set in contemporary Barcelona, Marc (Quim Gutiérrez) is the project manager at an IT company, working many late nights under threat of firing from Enrique (Jose Coronado). Marc's girlfriend Julia (Marta Etura) keeps pushing Marc about having a child, but he resists. Reports are coming in from around the world about people stricken with an extreme form of agoraphobia, and Marc witnesses a victim die when taken outside. Soon, he, and seemingly the entire world has "the panic", and wherever they were when it struck, that's where they are. Once a way is found to tunnel underground, Marc sets off from his office to find his girlfriend, with Enrique and his GPS along for the ride.
As stated, the production value is amazing. It's always interesting to see how cities are imagined when abandoned/neglected, and The Last Days
shows some amazing renderings of the now quiet space, slowly being overtaken by animals and plant life. As most of the film takes places underground, there is some great work in contrasting light and shadow, and contrast between large subway tunnels and tiny sewers gives the audience the idea of the spaces in which humans exist. This adds to the exploration (such as it is) of the cause of the disaster. Unlike most apocalypse stories, there is no external cause or danger; everyone is just trapped inside. As Marc and Enrique travel, they encounter different groups in different buildings, obviously some of which as less inclined to support large groups of people with limited supplies, so of course there are factions and power struggles. These moments are pretty glossed over and used for action sequences, which are good (such as a great chase through a large train station), if a bit predictable. The Pastor brothers do an excellent job of matching the camera shots to the space; large and wide in the tunnels, tight and close-up in apartments and sewers.
One thing the narrative does well is move between the present (Marc and Enrique's journey) and the past that lead up to the disaster, which makes for more interesting viewing. It focuses more on Marc's personal life, as if indicating that the extreme agoraphobia is a metaphor for humans spending too much time at work, too concerned about money and success, neglecting important things such as family. Given Spain's current economic crisis, this makes sense, but the narrative hits the audience over the head with it so frequently that it becomes annoying. The film is stripping down the convention of all apocalypse movies: that humans must get back to a simpler life. It could have been a bit more subtle, though.
Given that, strictly speaking, Marc and Enrique's journey is not exactly far (even if they are traveling underground), obstacles have to be put in their way, such as not finding Julia where expected, or blowing up tunnels to get into buildings without internal access. And their relationship, even if the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, is interesting. At certain points, it perhaps asks its audience to suspend their disbelief too much (for example, I doubt it would have taken people six weeks to figure out to put out buckets to collect rainwater, or only that long for people in a mall to go all Lord-of-the-Flies).
But this is, in essence, a Spanish attempt at a Hollywood disaster/apocalypse movie. On that level, it completely succeeds: it explains the disaster, shows its effects, and has a handsome and intelligent hero who is risking everything to find his love. It has good action sequences, a classic love story, an exciting journey, a developing friendship, and excellent production and art direction. But it also has the bad: there is manipulation through the score (which makes ones eyes roll more than anything), neglect of examination of deeper issues and metaphors that could have been very interesting, and the story does become predictable. It's entertaining enough, but not likely to be remembered.
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