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Los Ultimos Dias (The Last Days)
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by Jay Seaver

"A new way to end the world and an exciting adventure afterward."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: Earlier in this festival, I saw a post-apocalyptic movie where the nature of the end of civilization seemed particularly incidental, and where even though the stakes were high, the whole thing seemed quite inconsequential. "The Last Days" ("Los Últimos Días" in the original Spanish), on the other hand, has a very specific and unusual catalyst for everything falling apart, and it's probably no coincidence that it makes for a much more exciting movie, even if the main characters aren't trying to save the whole world.

It focuses on Marc Delgado (Quim Gutiérrez), a computer programmer who noted some odd behavior but didn't initially think much of it until it became clear what was happening, and he was one of the last to succumb to "The Panic", a crippling agoraphobia that prevents people from gong outside. He's been stuck in his office building for weeks if not months, but he and the others marooned there have finally dug from the underground parking structure to the subway tunnels. Marc wants to find his girlfriend Julia (Marta Etura), but to navigate through the sewers to his apartment building means he'll need a GPS device, necessitating a partnership with the much-despised consultant brought in to organize layoffs (Jose Coronado).

Movie doomsday scenarios are almost always designed to destroy cities, either for visual spectacle or to make some sort of point about how urban folks shouldn't look down on their country cousins - epidemics spread fast, zombies have places to hide, earthquakes topple buildings,and so on. So it's kind of fun that brothers Àlex and David Pastor have devised the rare disaster where the city folk are going to be in much better shape initially, even if the situation will eventually get ugly. Part of the fun, though, is figuring out both unexpected ways in which people are in big trouble and how they might cleverly use the resources at hand to survive. It also lets the Pastors build and reveal their world in a way that's especially satisfying: The Last Days initially looks and feels like a movie that doesn't need much of a location and effects budget - shooting in offices, apartments, and tunnels isn't extraordinarily hard or expensive - but as Marc and Enrique make their way across Barcelona, the world opens up as the city's tunnels lead them to bigger spaces that have decayed/adapted more. Their journey has a time component so that audience can watch that evolution, making the setting something fun for the audience to play with rather than just a way to inject panic and danger into a civilized world.

The story itself doesn't match the creativity of the setting; it's a road movie where the two fellow travelers who don't think much of each other will either become friends or have their differences thrown into sharper relief. Marc regrets the way he left things with Julia, and will have reason to regret that even more. The Pastors aren't subtle about what they are quarreling over and how it motivates Marc as he looks for Julia with increased urgency, and the conclusion may have worked even better if they hadn't stated things quite so plainly during the flashbacks, but it does still work.

Quim Gutiérrez shoulders a lot of that, but he's up to it for the most part. There are moments when his performance may seem a bit questionable, but he's also meant to be sort of young and unformed in the flashbacks and even as he starts out on his search for Julia, and not quite the guy that the audience wants representing them on-screen. The gruff Enrique probably isn't either, but Jose Coronado hits the right notes with him - the Pastors have written him as surprisingly adept at navigating this situation, but Coronado is the one who makes it easy for the viewer to construct a narrative where he's ex-army or something even if he's not all macho swagger or giving orders to the less capable. They make a good pair, especially as the residual hostility from the workplace evolves.

It's not quite a two-person show - Marta Etura and Leticia Dolera are fine as Julia and her sister Andrea, and no stop along the way is disappointing in terms of what Marc, Enrique, and the audience find there. The Pastors make each new location interesting in ways the audience might not expect - while a subway station may be a typical post-apocalyptic outpost, there are unexpected events at Marc's apartment, a church, and a hospital, whether it be a surprisingly non-combative scene or some well-done action (which may involve gangs or a bear).

The movie earns its extended coda, if only for the amusing way it calls back to an earlier conversation about just who will rule the earth later on. Not a lot of movies in this genre can say the same, but then, "The Last Days" is a somewhat rare example of an end-of-the-world tale that both builds an interesting enough world and fills it with characters worth rooting for.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26286&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/19/14 19:43:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2014 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

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