Fantastic Fest 2011: 'The Day' Review


Does a movie about the end of the world automatically qualify as horror? I'd say probably not, but the recent Fantastic Fest offering known as The Day certainly would. Impressive for its slow-burn approach to some material that, on paper, sounds a lot like a juvenile gore-fest, The Day makes you slow down and live in its world for a nice, long stretch -- but it does present some interesting characters, a few great set pieces, and a refreshingly sober attitude towards something that most horror flicks use as window dressing...

The Day opens about ten years after the fall of man. The precise reasons as to why man has gone more or less extinct are not made clear, but we can sense that we're knee-deep in a post-apocalyptic landscape that recalls The Road Warrior or, more accurately, The Road. Three of our five survivors are old pals from high school, and we get the impression that they've been struggling on the road together for quite some time. The other two are ladies, one a relatively free spirit, and the other a virtually mute gal who has some serious anger issues. Cast adrift in a countryside that offers little but wide open spaces and one isolated farmhouse, the quintet decides to pop in for a relatively safe night beneath a roof...

Oh, yes. Did I not mention that this post-apocalyptic horror tale features various tribes of rabid, vicious, cannibalistic psychopaths? Yep. Seems that whatever caused the collapse of civilization is long since over, and now we're dealing with humanity as it returns to its most primal, selfish, and desperate needs. But screenwriter Luke Passmore and Douglas Aarniokoski are intent on taking their time here. Not exactly a zombie movie (it's pure humans vs. humans here), The Day recalls creepy but low-key genre entries like Carriers; it's not about the boo/shock scares as it is about the quiet, unsettling, inevitable extinction of not just human beings, but humanity itself.

The Day (it really needs a title change, I know) also earns credit for a strong cast -- all five leads are strong -- and an intentionally slow build-up that gives each of its characters some shades of light and dark. The ostensibly heroic brothers (Shawn Ashmore and Dominic Monaghan) are well-crafted and strongly realized; the ladies (Shannyn Sossamon, the sweet one, and Ashley Bell, the tough one) have their own compelling wrinkles; and poor, ailing Henson (Cory Hardrict) seems to be perpetually at death's door, but there's still some fight in the guy, too. If The Day starts to feel a little familiar once the hyper-violent sieges kick in, at least we've been presented with a foundation of unexpected character. 

Perhaps a bit too draggy in the mid-section, The Day rectifies its few missteps by combining basic horror, creepy apocalypse, some simple but welcome political subtext, and a few moments of "rah rah" kinetic mayhem. Kudos also to the filmmakers for leaving a few things vague or only half-explained; we've already seen a good share of movies like The Day, but this one tackles some familiar ground with an admirable sense of confidence, creativity, and restraint.