Every once in a while a movie nearly manages to sneak past this wee Catgirl, and this one almost made it. Produced by WWE Studios… the cinema arm of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc (Yep, those crazy “fake” wrestling reality sports guys 😉 ) this one came into my sights some time back, but I had initially dismissed it as yet another one of those vehicles for fading wrestlers looking to become action movie stars. Not exactly my idea of great cinema…. and this comes from a girl who watches some seriously baaaaad movies, Hehehehe!! But as luck would have it, my sweet Carolyn… always on the prowl for movie goodies at our local Walmart that she thinks she can surprise lil’ ol’ me with… found this one, and the ever so helpful sales-guy told her it was “one of those gritty post apocalyptic “Mad Max” kinda things with zombies”. Well…. he got that wrong…. there weren’t any zombies, but there were cannibals. 😉
Our synopsis goes like this: “A group of five survivors, armed with shotguns, axes and machetes, wander the back roads of a ravaged post-apocalyptic future landscape looking for refuge. As war ravaged humanity, destroying civilization and most of life on earth, the survivors realize they must do whatever it takes to stay alive. Lost, starving, and exhausted, they seek shelter in a seemingly safe abandoned farmhouse. However, while searching for food and resources, they unwittingly set off a trap signaling to the ruthless predators lying in wait to begin their deadly attack. With their food and ammunition dwindling, the group must make a desperate final last ditch stand over a 24-hour period… battling for their ultimate prize… mere survival itself.”
So…. do the “wrestler guys” actually know how to do a good cannibal movie? Do they know how to do a good movie of… well… any sort? Thanks to my sweetie, and her desire to snuggle up on the couch with me and actually watch a movie where they speak English for a change I guess we’ll find out. (Even if she has to watch desperate people savagely battle vicious cannibals…. What can I say? ….. ♥ She just loves lil’ ol’ me beyond all logical reason…♥)
Surprisingly… at least to me… this lil’ unpretentious film wasn’t filled with “testosteron-y” ex-wrestlers with anger management issues and lil’ or no real acting talent. It has a small cast of actual actors, some of which I’d even seen before in other films… good films in fact. We get Dominic Monaghan (“The Lord Of The Rings”, “Lost”), Ashley Bell (“The Last Exorcism”), Shawn Ashmore (“Frozen”, “The Ruins”, “X-Men”), Shannyn Sossamon (“One Missed Call”) and Cory Hardrict (“Battle: Los Angeles”) in our cast as our ragged group of survivors, wandering the wastelands trying to eke out enough food to last one more miserable day.
So what’s the deal? Acid rain? Crop failure? Chemical and biological warfare run amok? We never know….. and guess what? It doesn’t really matter…. because that’s not the point of our story. Want a grand look at the “big picture”, post apocalypse? Then you’d better find yourself another movie because “The Day” is about just that: a single day for an anonymously “everyman” group just trying to keep it together long enough to see the sun rise one more time so they can struggle to do that all over again. We’re just along for a tiny peek at the misery they have to endure on what, for most, will be the last day of their lives.
It starts, almost iconically as our group appears over the hot hazy edge of some unknown road, stumbling along, starving, and exhausted, looking for a place to rest…. and to give one of the group, Henson (played by Cory Hardrict), a chance to survive the hacking cough of his oncoming pneumonia. Everything is filmed in this odd desaturated way throughout, not black and white mind you, but somehow bleached to a look like the world, and everything in it is slowly dying bit by bit. It’s a great bit of cinematography and sets a gritty decaying tone throughout that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in a film in quite a while.
It isn’t long before the deserted road leads them past an empty ruin of a farmhouse, and even though the group seems unwilling to pause… as if they have to keep moving to keep one step ahead of some terrible thing dogging their trail… their leader Rick (played by Dominic Monaghan) insists that they check it out, and stay until the poring rain passes giving them all at least some measure of rest.
That of course turns out to be a big, big mistake. We get a little bit of character interaction once our bedraggled group settles in to wait out the rain, and it doesn’t take long to pick up on the vibe of familiarity between our three male characters, Rick, Henson, and Adam (played by Shawn Ashmore). They all knew one another before… well… the “bad stuff” all started. Our two female characters are recent additions…. sexy Shannon (played by Shannyn Sossamon) who’s managed to link up with Adam in some fashion, and the quiet, dangerously loner Mary (played by Ashley Bell). Shannon doesn’t much like Mary…. and certainly doesn’t trust her… but it’s clear to see that the men recognize her obviously formidable skills in the whole survival game. But we don’t get a whole lot of time to learn much more than that before the proverbial “shit hits the fan”.
The next day, because Henson is still too sick to move on, Rick decides that the group will stay an extra day over their protests that such an idea is a bad one. He has the girls act as lookouts, while they search the house for anything that might be useful when they finally leave. After Shannon has a confrontation with Mary over her unwillingness to open up and truly be a part of the group, they split up. Mary tries to bathe and wash her clothing in a stream, but gets attacked by a random stranger whom she narrowly manages to kill with her shotgun. Meanwhile, back at the house, our little group finds an unexpected cache of canned food in the basement only to realize too late that it’s only the bait in an elaborate booby trap that kills Rick and is also designed to seal them in the basement and ring a loud bell that can be heard for miles. Awwwww crap.
The girls rush back, while the “owners” of the house show up to see what they’ve caught. Who would these guys be? Why the scouts for one of what turns out to be the survivors greatest fear: a cannibal clan. Oh yeah…. with the world’s biosphere wrecked and stocks of pre-disaster foodstuffs dwindling, it seems that some groups of survivors have taken to cannibalism to exist. The scouts tease our boys until the ladies arrive and the deadly Mary wastes most of their creepy butts but not before gets “outed” by their leader once he catches a glance at her very own clan sign branded on the inside of her upper thigh.
Mary’s a cannibal? Oh yeah…. and that doesn’t set well with our lil’ group even though she saved them. They beat her senseless and question her. At first they figure she was supposed to infiltrate their group and lure them to this trap, but later realize she’s not connected to this new clan. Forced into the leadership role by Rick’s death, Adam goes a little psycho… having a flashback to the beginnings of the apocalypse when he lost his wife and daughter to a cannibal attack (Our only true color sequence in the entire film, by the way)… and takes it out on Mary, beating her mercilessly and torturing her by slicing her tattoo off and trying to force feed it to her. Ewwwwhhhh!!
But, Mary’s one vicious capable lil’ survivor, and manages to free herself and prove to the men that she could have killed them at any time if she’d wanted. Beaten, bloody, she admits that she’s exactly what they think… but that after her younger sister, also a member of her old clan, was hurt in an accident, her clan had killed her and eaten her despite her being one of them. After that, Mary killed the entire clan in their sleep and went her own way wandering alone and just wanting an end to her suffering before encountering her current companions. She’s fully aware of the horror she’s become, and you get the idea that she’s looking for a redemption that she doesn’t really believe she deserves and is merely seeking a chance to die…. except that at her core she’s too much of a survivor to manage it. She tells them that they won’t be able to escape if they run…. the clan will only track them down no matter what they do. They have only one chance, fortify the house and make taking them just too costly for the clan to accept.
They don’t expect it will work that way…. and even Mary figures this last stand will simply be where they die, but since she’s aching for a death that will end her self loathing misery she promises to help them fight if they’ll let her, giving them her formidable combat skills as well as her intimate knowledge of their enemy. They hate her for what she is, and Adam and Shannon both figure that whatever happens, they’ll kill her themselves if any of them survive the night.
Back at the cannibal clan, we are introduced to the clan’s leader (played by Michael Eklund) and his two scary, scary cannibal kids, an adorable lil’ brother and sister. Where the adult cannibals are scary enough…. having recently been civilized people who have chosen to become the unthinkable to survive a dying world, the two little children know nothing else and are the most chilling and amoral creatures imaginable. Brrrr!
They surround the house as darkness falls, and begin the business of rooting out their “meat”. It’s a brutal battle… and although our heroes do have guns, they only have a handful of bullets between them. Unlike most “post apocalyptic” movies, that’s actually treated with the seriousness it should be, with our heroes literally doing a countdown as they expend rounds, a very realistic and nice touch that added to the tension while at the same time making the whole idea more “real”.
Run out of bullets? Why that’s what machetes, axes, knives, and crude spears are for, silly, and boy, do we get to see how that works! One by one they thin out the cannibals, but then Shannon manages to kill the leader’s son and he goes completely and totally apeshit. No convincing them it’s too costly to kill them now. It’s a savage fight to the death from that point on, and Henson goes down before the clan decides to trash the trap house and burn it to the ground to force them out as dawn breaks. Mary tells Adam and Shannon to flee out the back while she goes out the front to face down the leader and his remaining fighters. She knows it’s going to be the last thing she does, but by this time she’s finally ready to embrace her death if she can somehow atone for her horrors and give them a chance to get free.
That would work too… except that at the very end, Adam just can’t leave her to die alone, especially when Shannon reveals she’s stolen all the rounds out of Mary’s shotgun to make certain she has no chance to survive… just as they had planned. Sending her away to make her escape alone, he goes back just in time to tip the scales and give Mary the fighting chance she needs to kill the rest of the clan. Too bad he gets himself mortally wounded in the process. Then, while Mary sits with him outside the burning house as he bleeds out, they watch the sun rise and share a moment of empathy that tells Mary he just can’t hate her, that for all she’s done, for all she is, she’s still human and a part of “the family”. Maybe a little stereotypically melodramatic plot-wise, especially given he’s the guy who carved a chunk of her thigh off and tried to feed it to her only hours before… but it worked for me. Too many Asian films…. I’m just used to those dramatic overblown sad endings I guess.
Mind you… there’s a bit of nasty stuff to go, with the lone Shannon running afoul of the last of the cannibal clan, the leader’s little girl. She’s a mean lil’ kiddie with a skinning blade, and makes short work of Shannon out there in the woods. She tries to finish Mary off too… attempting to use her innocent lil’ kid look to lull her into letting her get close enough for the kill, but Mary’s still the meanest survivor around, beheading her with a machete before she can blink. Then, with only a moment to bind up her wounded thigh, our film ends as it began, with Mary walking away back down that lonely road.
Oh yes…. this one is a grim film. No doubt about that, and it’s a simple one as well, but in this particular case that sparseness works to it’s advantage. You aren’t given any superfluous elements to deal with, and as a result, the film is lean and plays like a “snapshot” of a particular time and place…. one you’d never, ever, really want to witness… as it tries to show just how far even the most civilized people can fall when mere survival is the only prize to shoot for. Our cast hits all the right looks… these are average people, dirty, grungy, wearing a wardrobe that looks like a bunch of heavily armed homeless people rather than the usual “biker gang crossed with Heavy Metal concert” look you see in most films. The actors are spot on, and I really have some serious praise for Ashley Bell who gives Mary that skinny, starving “alley cat” look of lonely feral meanness tempered with a hint of sadness…. just perfect for the character.
I liked this one a lot. It’s look… it’s characters…. the setting… and all without a famous wrestler anywhere in sight, Hehehe!! My sweetie actually snagged a gem this time out… and I can easily give it 4 well earned “Meows” out of 5 without reservation. The DVD? It’s Region 1, in NTSC widescreen format and available for the surprisingly thrifty price of around 10-15$ most places. It’s a definite watch for anyone who’s a fan of the “End of the World” genre action. 😉
Yep, there’s a Trailer, of course, and naturally this wee Catgirl would never send you away with a peek, would she? 😉