Monday, November 19, 2012

The Cinema File #27: "The Day" Review

A group of five survivors in a post-apocalyptic near future fend for their lives against...some guys I guess.

I haven't done any research on the production background of this movie to know why the WWE is handling the distribution rights, despite it having no wrestlers and nothing to do with professional wrestling, but the confusion elicited from that one title card was quickly superseded by an even greater sense of disorientation as I watched this drab exercise in action sadness play out, never knowing exactly why I was supposed to give a shit. It isn't a total failure mind you, the main cast is generally good at conveying the hopelessness of the situation, there's at least one twist that genuinely surprised me, and the action is decent when you can see it, but overall, I'm still struggling to figure out what the point was of what I just watched.

The story, to the extent that one exists, follows five people brought together by the common tragedy of some completely unexplained apocalypse, as they hole up inside a farmhouse and make a last stand against a small army of bloodthirsty cannibals. To say that a little more backstory would have been nice is a gross understatement here. We're just thrown into this mess with no context, forced to piece together the specifics as we go, but its so frustrating that by the time the action ramps up and I might have been interested and engaged, I'm already too pissed off by the movie to latch onto it. It feels like the sequel to a movie I never saw, and maybe it was a good one, but I'd really like to know what led to all of this before I can start watching the continued saga of the guy from Lost and the twin brother of Smallville's Jimmy Olsen.

What little glimpse we get of the past follows his character in the one brief splash of color we get in an otherwise grey bleh of a movie, but its so quick and adds nothing of exposition that it seems pointless. If they had done something similar with all the characters, and used this mosaic of flashbacks to not only establish a stylistic motif, but also provide some much needed explanation of why things are the way they are, I would have applauded the technique, but as it stands, its just a reminder of how dank and drained of energy the rest of the film is.

I say that they are besieged by cannibals, and I can safely confirm this from the dialogue, but that's all I got for who these nameless antagonists are. There's nothing here to tell me if they are humans driven crazy by some virus that started the apocalypse, or as seems more likely, just humans who descended into cannibalism because of it, which leaves us once again wondering why the hell everything is so apocalyptic. Part of me wants to commend the movie for being so elusive with its main premise, just expecting the audience to get on board rather than doling out more information to satisfy curiosity, but when the end result is so devoid of ingenuity or substance, just devolving into gorey fighting, I need more. And the plot seems to demand it as well. A key point of the film references clans and allegiances in such a way that it seems strange to me that more time wasn't spent on delving into just what these predatory people in the woods are and how they work as a group. The main characters seem to know, and to the film's credit they don't say things to each other that they all know just for the purposes of exposition in the way a lot of movies do, but as a result, we get nothing told to us about them and just have to assume that they're amorphous bad guys who happen to eat people.

The greyness of this movie almost brought me to tears, and not in I imagine the way it was intended. It is clearly meant to convey a sense of bleakness in the world around them, that for all their leader's talk of hope and faith, there is little of either left to hold onto. Its effective in establishing that tone, but almost too much so, to the point where I wanted to turn the movie off at least a few times just to switch over to something with a little color. If the story got interesting a little sooner than a half hour in, this might have been excusable, but honestly, if I wasn't committed to sticking with this for the purposes of this review, I'd probably have given up on it before it got (relatively) better.

Again, its not all bad, and if you can get through the ball-achingly slow and depressing start, it does build to a modestly satisfying climax. The twist concerning just where they find themselves and the resulting bloody aftermath was even a bit shocking, though I may have been lulled into a false sense of boring security that enhanced the impact of that moment. Once the war breaks out about half way through, its safe to say things get a lot more exciting and I at least was finally able to care about the survival of these characters, but then the style suffers here as well, as so much of the action is shrouded in darkness and I can only see what's going on about half the time.

As a whole, The Day is a little hard for me to recommend. A little more patience than I was capable of mustering for it might lead you to a marginally enjoyable experience, though don't expect anything special. I personally couldn't get past the pacing and some of the more dour stylistic choices to find the sweet spots all that sweet. There's a good movie in here somewhere, but I get the impression that they were all a little more interested in trying to present their story in a clever way, that they forgot to actually write a clever story. Maybe its enough for you. Not to sound like a broken record, but its still better than most of the big budget action movies I've seen recently.

Die hard post apocalyptic survival junkies are probably a safe bet to like this, but the casual viewer might want to stay away.

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