Friday, March 28, 2014

The Last Days (Los últimos días)

I have not been to the movies in what seems like ages and last weekend was no exception since I was a little under the weather. I recouped enough by Sunday to make my usual weekend trek to Connecticut to visit my knuckleheads, but other than a few errands, I spent most of Saturday drinking orange juice, downing packets of Emergen-C (1000 mg of Vitamin C per packet; a sure-fire cold buster), sucking Cold Eeze (zinc lozenges; yes, I threw everything but the kitchen sink at my cold) and laying on my couch watching TV and movies. One of those movies was the above-mentioned The Last Days (Los últimos días), a 2013 Spanish import (with subtitles) I found on OnDemand that offers a post-apocalyptic look at Barcelona after a mysterious epidemic strikes all corners of the planet, leaving humanity trapped indoors as a result of a form of agoraphobia which actually causes death to those that in vain try venturing outside.

The film alternates between present and past (seen through flashbacks) and at its onset we’re introduced to a bearded and haggard young man, Marc, a hard working program manager trapped in one of Barcelona’s many high-rises. Marc and his co-workers, including Enrique, the HR bigwig that had been sent three months earlier to get rid of the department’s dead weight including quite possibly Marc, have been trapped there for those past three months since the epidemic took root. The lot have been rationing supplies and coordinating efforts to dig through the walls of the building's indoor parking garage in order to break into the subterranean metro line and thereby have free access to move about the city without going outside.

As their efforts are finally rewarded with sight of the train tracks, Marc decides it’s time to brave all possible uncertainty and try to find his girlfriend Julia, whom through flashbacks we learn is pregnant. Thanks to Enrique’s access to a stolen GPS, the two unlikely pair join efforts and head into the subway with nothing but a flashlight to light their way. The two brave countless dangers that undermine their fragile partnership, but through subways, sewers and lawless misfits alike, the two struggle for their humanity as each desperately strives to reach their loved one.

This was a pretty good thriller; enjoyable though nothing to write home about (though I am writing about it aren’t I, so I guess I’m proving myself wrong). Post-apocalyptic films are nothing new and a reliable go-to subject for thrillers as they offer a compelling scenario that plays on our fears of a society run amok with every man for himself; a theme brilliantly showcased in such films as I am Legend or the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The Last Days (Los últimos días) easily delivers on the expected action and tension filled suspense of our heroes life-threatening journey, but also offers a moving and poignant connection between the two male leads and highlights the beauty and hope found in the bonds of friendship.

The filmmakers never posit an explanation for the epidemic so we’re left to merely accept the situation at face value, though we're witness to the build-up of events through Marc's scattered memories during his odyssey in search of Julia. The film does do a wonderful job of showing the breakdown of society and the general chaos and mayhem that ensues with no government, no police and no sense of order; as the situation reduces man, woman and child to their most primitive form as each fights for their own survival, where care is given only to the most basic of needs – food, safety and shelter.

The film’s scenes of eerily deserted Barcelona streets are stunning and the shots of crowded metro stations filled with refugees in makeshift tents now called home or shoppers barricaded in a mall’s supermarket protecting the few remaining supplies from being laid siege by violent scavengers are utterly gripping as they offer a scary and sad look at how quickly humanity can be lost in midst of desperation. Yet the film and by extension our hero’s bleak hopes are redeemed by love; a force powerful enough to sustain and prevail over all.

The Last Days (Los últimos días) is a gripping tale that makes you value the beauty and freedom found outside your front door and thanks to well-portrayed protagonists offers an important reminder that when all seems lost, hope and love remain.