I’ve argued before (with others) about why I find stories set during mankind’s impending demise so captivating. Initially, I figured it was the ‘bare bones’ appeal to survival that compelled me to watch them; the structures that make life livable begin to collapse, and we truly learn a lot about characters as we see them struggling to put a semblance of order back into place. As I watched more and more of them, however, I brushed aside those considerations because I noticed more often that it was these ‘end times’ circumstances that truly push folks not so much out of their comfort zone as it cosmetically peeled away layers of falsehoods we use to conceal our true selves. What we’re left with are a bunch of core characters with nothing left but their respective conflicts … and there’s no truer way to define a man or a woman than examination what truly makes them tick.
Make no bones about it: Friend Of The World (2020) is about character. Yes – like so many films of this type – it uses the backdrop of the Apocalypse (mostly effectively) just to give us a time and a place with which to begin this fragile journey … but it could’ve used a few more specifics to give it some deeper substance along the way. What remains, after all, is what remains.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“After a catastrophic war, an eccentric general guides a filmmaker through a ravaged bunker.”
Now, I may be naïve – or I may just have missed it, though that’s hard to do in a short film (this one clocks in at 50 minutes – but I can’t help but point out right out of the gate that writer/director Brian Patrick Butler broke the first rule of the road movie: the audience must know not so much where we’re going as we need to know why.
Every story ever told under the sun represents a journey. This may not be a literal journey – oft times, character dramas focus on recovery and healing. But somewhere within the narrative structure there has to be a representative Point A and Point B. Audiences – well, the smart ones, anyway – know that they’re likely not going to be treated to that whole ‘shortest distance between two points’ thing because where the Hell is the fun in that? Life is about the twisting and the turning and the inevitable looping and circling back for any number of reasons … but it still comes with a very discernible beginning and ending.
Friend’s General Gore (played by Nick Young) and – ahem – Diane Keaton (Alexandra Slade) are on a journey – we see them leaving the safety and comfort of the angry military man’s room and risking their lives through a disheveled bunker – but there’s no clear indication of why. Why were they risking their lives? Why were they heading out into the Apocalypse? There are a handful of small considerations – food is scarce, water probably more so – but if there was a clear mission specific it really needed to be hammered home. Incessantly. Ruthlessly. Never let us forget why they're going where they're going. It really matters in a road movie. Even when on foot.
These are two people -- two broken souls -- from way different sides of the proverbial tracks, and the occasionally blistering exchanges are clearly assembled to give this somewhat experimental drama the life it needs to keep the viewers watching. While I’ll admit there were a few passages that, frankly, didn’t quite make much sense – i.e. the entire farting man sequence comes to mind – I don’t concern myself with stuff that eludes meaning to me personally: the endless bickering between a hardened military mind and one of life’s creative types gives me more than enough of a foundation to tap into the consciousness at work. Those moments? They work probably better than most low budget fare I’ve seen, and they should be commended. But for the rest? Well, maybe I’m sweating the small stuff.
Young, in particular, carries the weight of the world in the work.
As Gore, he barks orders, espouses military groupthink, and sweats authority at every opportunity. Audiences have seen the likes of him on the screen before. He’s actor Sterling Hayden as ‘Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper’ in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964). He’s Burt Lancaster’s ‘Gen. James Mattoon Scott’ in Seven Days In May (1964). He’s Richard Widmark’s ‘Capt. Eric Finlander’ in James B. Harris’ exceptional Cold War thriller The Bedford Incident (1965). He’s Gene Hackman’s ‘Captain Ramsey’ in Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide (1995). These are men hardened not so much by conflict as they are by their unflinching adherence to an ideology; they’d just as soon start a war to give themselves something to do. Preserving the peace? That ain’t in their schedule.
In fact, he probably started this whole damn Apocalypse just so he could get himself a bunker! The inglorious bastard!
Friend Of The World (2020) was produced by Charybdis Pictures and Gray Area Multimedia. The film is presently available for streaming on a variety of platforms (according to Google.com). As for the technical specifications? The film is a bit experimental, at times, blending in both black-and-white and color footage (don’t worry as it’s all meant to serve the narrative); it works for what it is as this is a low-budget SciFi/Horror/Drama meant to make you think not so much as marvel.
Admittedly, Friend Of The World (2020) is a bit light on the Apocalypse’s specifics (and it's a bit heavy on being experimental), but that’s okay. That's forgivable. As I said above, these films are never really about the fall of man so much as they are about men falling all over themselves in the bloody aftermath; and these ‘friends’ are clearly not so friendly, nor destined for this world for much longer in their present state. Neither are survivors, though one may live on. Now, I couldn’t tell you beans about what awaits them in particular – that part of the plot is shrouded in a bit of murkiness – but it would look like something trying to force a whole lot of souls into a single bucket. With so many personalities afloat, that’s gonna get messy.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Charybdis Pictures provided me with a complimentary streaming link of Friend Of The World (2020) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.