DOOMSDAYS Review: Timing is Everything
My first recollection of a film with post-apocalyptic themes was something I saw on UHF one lazy summer afternoon when I was a kid. The film was Ranald MacDougall‘s The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1952), about three strangers who find each other after a nuclear holocaust wipes the rest of the world. I’ve been hooked on post-apocalyptic films ever since, and there are far too many examples to list here (although I’ll give a shout-out to an all-time ’80s fave, Night of the Comet).
When Doomsdays found its way to my screen I was intrigued, as the film is not billed as being post-apocalyptic, but rather … pre-apocalyptic?
The film, written and directed by first-timer Eddie Mullins, tells the tale of Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) and Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick), friends who are introduced to the viewer as they are being chased out of a house by the owners, who arrived home to find the pair had broken in and made themselves at home. What follows is a series of break-ins into unoccupied houses located in the rural Catskills. The duo reconnoiter each place, find an entry point, ransack it for the good stuff, then stay until they get caught. Squat, rinse, repeat.
That is until they pick up two people along the way who become important to them: Jaidon (Brian Charles Johnson), a student they find in a house they break into who becomes something of a protégé to the duo; and Reyna (Laura Campbell), a romantic interest for Dirty Fred the (now) trio meets at a party they crash. She’s game for the squatting lifestyle, too.
I’m usually loathe to use the term “quirky” when describing a film, given how the word is grossly overused (especially in the indie film community), but does it ever apply to Doomsdays. This is a buddy comedy/road picture that throws away the rule book and brings a fresh approach to storytelling. It doesn’t always succeed, but somehow it never really fails, either.
What takes the most getting used to in this “pre-apocalyptic” tale (there is a fear the end of the world is near) is the structure of the story. It occurs over about one month’s timeframe, with specific date-markers flashed on the screen when necessary, so there is a concrete sense of time throughout. However, the film opens in the middle of the journey and is little more than a series of days and the events that occur in those days. With the exception of a surprising, yet remarkably tender and sincere, late-breaking development (no spoilers here), there’s no real narrative to it. The film documents a series of events that occur to Fred and Bruho, and could have begun at almost any point in the film.
And therein lies the opposite edge of the film’s sword. Despite how different each break-in circumstance might be in terms of details, and despite some documented days being incredibly short (one “entry” only has Fred and Bruho climbing a watchtower, I suppose to scout their next move), the film ends begging the question, “What’s the point of this exercise?” It’s a fair question.
In terms of “story,” an argument can be made that where the film ends is a natural stopping point (although how it gets there is a little flimsy). But an equal argument can be made that where the film ends is just the end of another day, and more days should follow. This latter argument is supported by the fact that no character goes through a traditional arc. Relationships form, change, and end, but no single character takes a journey that has him/her changing in some way.
Endings, either of stories or character paths, need not be tidy, but they ought to at least be present. One really isn’t present here, and that takes some getting used to.
This fast and loose management of story and characters is kept afloat by four wonderfully sincere performances by the main cast. In Fred, Rice has an intellectual with a considerable penchant for alcohol and he plays the part perfectly. Fred it the alpha male but not a dictator, the intellectual but not the snob, and the drinker but not the drunk. He’s the guy you would invite to a cocktail party for all those reasons.
Fitzpatrick has a fun character in Bruho. The guy doesn’t have a lot to say, but he has both emotional and physical aspects to him that could easily come across as buffoonish; Fitzpatrick only flirts with that, and measuredly so. Johnson and Campbell round the cast with characters that, in a way, remind me of the small characters Aaron Sorkin used to sprinkle into The West Wing; they nicely fit into the pace and tenor of the show (or, in this case, the film) even though they aren’t primary.
In the end, I quite liked Doomsdays, but I’ll readily admit it isn’t for everyone. However, if you are willing to abandon traditional structure and take a chance on a (quirky) film, the sum of whose parts is greater than the whole of it, you’ll have a fun time.