The Day (2011) dir. Doug Aarniokoski
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Ashley Bell, Cory Hardrict, Dominic Monaghan, Shannyn Sossamon
By Greg Klymkiw
Okay, so we all know when we’re watching a genre picture that’s low-to-no-budget - we’re out in a wilderness setting with one primary location and a relatively small cast. This normally isn’t a problem when the filmmakers go out of their way to make up for a lack of dough by:
(a.) Taking the genre into territory we’ve never quite experienced before and/or;
(b.) Maintaining a sense of dark (and hopefully not tongue-in-cheek) humour and/or;
(c.) Showcasing really good writing in terms of character, theme and dialogue.
This, I think, is especially important for post-apocalyptic thrillers, because the last thing you want to offer fan-boys is a dour, humourless, low-to-no-budget post-apocalyptic thriller.
This is often, shall we say, apocalyptic in more ways than one.
The Day hits zero out of three on the aforementioned checklist of low-to-no-budget genre thriller requirements. It’s a dour, humourless been-there-done-that post-apocalyptic thriller with by-rote writing that no doubt thinks it’s smart. The screenplay by Luke Passmore loads up all the clichés of the genre with a heap of dull blah-blah-blah in confined spaces and stock characters (the cool collected leader, the kick-ass babe with smarts (as it were), the loner kick-ass babe who is seemingly off her rocker, the supposedly funny team member who is sick and holding everyone back and, for the life of me, I can’t even remember who the fifth team member is, but I can assure you he’d probably be more memorable if I bothered to watch the movie again.
The picture focuses on one day in the life of five apocalypse survivors trying to stay a step ahead of crazed cannibals (identified by an “I’m a cannibal” tattoo) looking for fresh meat. Food is in short supply so humans are the best bet for good eating. The one-day-in-the-life conceit could have been interesting, but it’s not fully exploited in any meaningful and/or useful fashion. The device appears to be there because the filmmakers think they're being clever and/or have used it as a let’s-keep-exigencies-of-production-in-mind convention.
None of this is surprising since the movie is all about setting up expectations and then not delivering (and when it does, it's much ado about nothing). For example, early on in the film, the survivors come upon a seemingly abandoned farmhouse. We sit back in anticipation as director Doug Aarniokoski draws out the “suspense” whilst our team slowly susses out the situation. This drags on for what feels like an eternity until… nothing.
All seems well.
We then have to suffer through a whole lot of dialogue where the actors get to emote and be characters we could care (less) about and it then seems to take another eternity before something vaguely exciting happens. When it does, it’s exactly what I predicted when they first discovered all was well. I have no doubt you'll figure it out too. My apologies, then, for having seen too many movies and knowing exactly where things are going, If you’re going to make a picture like this for no money you better damn well think of shit that geeks like me aren’t waiting for. Or, if you do utilize obvious genre tropes, you better damn well do something interesting and/or funny with them. Instead, the movie plods along with no surprises, no thrills and nothing new under the sun. At times, it’s hard to believe the movie is only ninety minutes. It's so dull it feels like ninety hours
About the best one can say is that The Day is at least professional and borderline competent. The performances are as fine as they can be under the circumstances and director Aarniokoski (director of the incomprehensible hack job Highlander: Endgame and the ludicrous Animals) handles the suspense and action with rudimentary competence.
This, however, is hardly a compliment.
If the movie had at least been utterly incompetent, it might have been blessed with something resembling entertainment value.
The Day had its unveiling at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2011). If it's theatrically released, civilization as we know it will be dead. Most likely you'll find it direct to home entertainment.