FrightFest 2013: The Last Days

Anton Bitel,

"The last time I talked to Julia, I told her I didn't want children."

So says Marc Delgado (Quim Guttiérez) to his companion-of-convenience Enrique (José Coronado) as the two of them trek together through - or more precisely, under - a post-apocalyptic Barcelona, in a struggle to reconnect with their respective loved ones. A series of flashbacks reveals both Marc's troubled relationship with long-time girlfriend Julia (Marta Etura), and the curious conceit that is now keeping the lovers apart. For here, life as we know it has ground to a halt not because of zombies, or nuclear meltdown, or environmental disaster, but rather because of a mysterious pandemic of agoraphobia that has stopped the entire populace ever stepping outside into the open air.

Professional downsizer Enrique was on the point of firing Marc from his job as a computer programmer when both became trapped for months in the office building with the other workers - but now that Marc has helped dig a tunnel through to the city's subway system and Enrique has managed to obtain a GPS navigator, both men reluctantly team up to find Marc's girlfriend and Enrique's ailing father, located in different parts of town. It is a strange journey in which two lonely, desperate men will rediscover friendship and a renewed hope for a future that they had abandoned even before their everyday lives unexpectedly came to an end. Armed with a photo of Julia and a bagful of seeds, Marc will take a leap of faith into the new world of tomorrow.

Overworked businessmen living out of their cubicles. People leading atomised lives of disconnection. Shopping malls transformed into arenas of social struggle. At first everything in the Pastor brothers' film seems to be an allegory for post-Crunch alienation and despair - and the impression that nothing here is to be taken literally seems confirmed by the recurring surreal image of a stag walking in an otherwise empty city street, first glimpsed in a child's crayon drawing, before becoming fully realised within the film's physical world. Even when genre starts imposing its own demands and clichéd apocalypse routines kick in, they are defamiliarised and therefore refreshed by their unusual context. Here Mad Max-style feral gangs conduct vicious wars on (and over) supermarket shelves; here the same escaped zoo animals that we have seen roaming the cities in The 12 Monkeys and I Am Legend are encountered within the confines of a church; and here it is not airborne neurotoxins, like those in The Happening, which make it so difficult for a separated couple to cross over to each other from one building to another, but rather just a crippling, irrational fear of being outside.

That said, The Last Days starts much better than it ends. No doubt Spain, currently caught in the grip of an economic crisis with no end in sight, can do with the optimistic message that the next generation will inherit a better world than the one we currently inhabit - but it makes for an unsatisfyingly pat and oversentimental conclusion to a film that began so promisingly in all its drably satirical bleakness.

'The Last Days' screens at Film4 FrightFest...

Main Screen, Sun 25th August, 9.10pm

Follow Anton on Twitter: @AntBit

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