The Day

The Day

***

Reviewed by: David Graham

Far from the barren landscapes often portrayed, the apocalypse has proven fertile ground for film-makers of late, tapping into our guilt-ridden fears of impending planetary self-destruction. The Day offers another depressing trek through wasteland USA, with squabbling youngsters for company and cannibals (of course) on our tail. The outlook? Bleak. It's hard to muster much enthusiasm for such a familiar premise now, but director Douglas Aarniokoski just about displays enough during the taut run-time to keep you invested in his action-orientated rip-off of The Road.

A rag-tag group of youthful survivors are living on the run and at war with the rest of humanity after an unspecified disaster has left the landscape in ruins. Hoping to find a safe place to start to cultivate the land again with the handful of seeds they hold dear, the group are forced to take overnight refuge in an abandoned farmhouse. With an ailing member and simmering tensions as to where their loyalties lie, an investigation into their surroundings brings a moment of bittersweet relief. The house proves to have a few skeletons in its closets, however, leading to a Mexican stand-off with its erstwhile inhabitants.

Opening with the obligatory desaturated colour scheme and a frayed, twanging score, The Day doesn't exactly distinguish itself with its derivative approach to such cliched material. There is a predictable washed-out beauty to the cinematography, while the crumbling set design offers up poignant detail and a stark, suffocating atmosphere, but the terse interaction between the players is a little too obvious, with the clumsily exposition-heavy dialogue failing to spark any real interest in their situation.

Aarniokoski soon skilfully punctures his pallid picture with jarring moments of sudden threat and brutal violence; interlopers hint at an unsettling mythology while the group start to turn on each other in paranoia-stoking interrogation scenes. An air of claustrophobic menace creeps in, as our 'heroes' get bogged down in some uncomfortably barbaric behaviour, that becomes even more upsetting for perhaps seeming justified.

As unresolved differences are put aside in the face of a greater enemy, Aarniokoski shows real flair for staging visceral, splattery action; his camera is frantic enough to keep you on a knife-edge but lingers just long enough to let you revel in the bloodthirstiness of his set-pieces without tipping the story-line into sadism. Unfortunately, this mid-section riff on Night Of The Living Dead is shot so murkily that it soon degenerates into a tedious, incoherent mess, a seemingly never-ending stream of faceless, brainless goons who may as well be zombies providing Assault On Precinct 13-style cannon fodder for our heroes.

The characters lose any credibility they'd hitherto accrued through several schoolboy plotting errors. Token black guy Cory Hardrict's practically dying one minute but dishing out gung-ho deliverance and expletive-heavy one-liners the next, while Shannyn Sossamon's frankly useless girlfriend's primary function amounts to little more than dead-weight damsel-in-distress. The action is fitfully satisfying but it all becomes so overwrought and ridiculous that it's hard to care who lives or dies, even if that may not be as obvious as it might initially appear.

The cast is almost entirely made up of charismatic young actors, giving the characters an instant likeability despite their dialogue possessing about as much subtlety as a sledge-hammar to the side of the head. Ashley Bell proves there's life after The Last Exorcism with a convincingly kick-ass anti-heroine, and Shawn Ashmore stands out as a grizzled and grief-struck aggressor, the young veteran proving unafraid of ploughing some pretty ugly furrows of psychological and physical torture. As in similarly depressing doomsday yarn The Divide, much of the character interaction comes off as trite set-up for protracted suffering or indulgent emoting, while Michael Eklund's underdeveloped villain never quite reaches the fever pitch of spine-tingling, scene-stealing intensity he achieved in that film.

The Day won't be remembered as definitively as its title may suggest, but it's just about diverting enough for the easily-pleased or those who found Cormac McCarthy's vision a little light on skull-smashing brawls. Its accomplished cast and proficient direction make it effortlessly enjoyable during its cathartic bursts of claret, but it lacks the conviction needed to make its intimate moments shine out from the overwhelming gloom.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2012
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Survivors travelling through a post-Apocalypse world take refuge in a remote farmhouse and face a showdown with mutant cannibals.
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Director: Doug Aarniokoski

Starring: Dominic Monaghan, Shawn Ashmore, Cory Hardrict, Ashley Bell, Shannyn Sossamon

Year: 2011

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Canada

Festivals:

Glasgow 2012

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