Saturday, April 6, 2013

Viral Agoraphobia Leads to 'The Last Days' in New Spanish Film, 'Los Últimos Días'

What if agoraphobia were contagious -- and lethal? That's the question the Pastor brothers, David and Alex (Carriers, 2009), imagine an answer to in their latest film, Los Últimos Días (The Last Days.)

This apocalyptic story unfolds in present day Barcelona as a worldwide epidemic leaves streets emptied and people trapped in homes, offices, shopping centers, etc. due to a morbid fear of simply stepping outside. Indeed, the adverse reaction to going out is so strong that individuals who do convulse and die after stepping only a few feet out the door. The result: a world in total chaos.

Months after the pandemic strikes, high-tech staff stuck in a powerless high-rise office building are struggling to survive as food and water runs low. They work together in shifts to escape their prison by digging their way into the tunnels of the metro, power and sewage systems below. After successfully breaking through, two very different characters are suddenly thrown together and make an agreement to travel jointly through the bowels of the city as they head for their destinations. 

Marc (Quim Gutiérrez), is a young computer programmer who desperately wants to find the pregnant girlfriend he argued with before leaving for work on the day the virus finally paralyzed the world. Enrique (Jose Coronado), is a cut-throat human resources consultant who had been brought in to clean up the company by forcing Marc and others seen as under-performers to shape-up or ship-out. Exactly who or what Enrique is after is initially a mystery to Marc -- and to the audience.

We follow this odd-couple making their way through dark and dingy passageways with surprises lurking around nearly every curve. As they push forward, they manage to get into a metro station, an apartment building, a mall, a skyscraper and a church, where they come across others who are on journeys like theirs, crowds huddling together in a semblance of community, gangs of criminals, families who are trying to stick together, as well as assorted animals -- big and small.

The movie does not focus on the how or the why of the pandemic. Through flashbacks we catch bits and pieces of news reports about ash from a volcano in Iceland and increasing cases of agoraphobia, panic and suicides, and as things get worse we hear reassurances from the authorities meant to calm the masses. Instead the directors explore how humanity might react to such a tragedy, which in the case of Marc is simply to try to reunite with a loved one, without giving much thought about what he might do after. Enrique is looking for something or someone, too, but in addition he shows signs of thinking ahead to what very basic things they will need to survive.

The special effects are excellent. The eerie scenes of a Barcelona abandoned by its inhabitants and increasingly reclaimed by nature brought to mind the London of 28 Weeks Later and New York of I Am Legend.

The performances are equally impressive. Veteran actor Jose Coronado blends the right amount of ruthlessness and humanity into the character of Enrique. Quim Gutierrez, who jumped from soap operas to the big screen a few years ago, portrays Marc with a sort of naivete and innocence that makes his journey believable.

All in all, a well-made and very entertaining film.