Crash Analysis: THE DAY (2011)

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

Don’t believe the negative hype – indulge…

I was impressed with Douglas Aarniokoski’s THE DAY for a number of reasons, and  The-Day-Movie-Posterwanted to look up some information about the film. Then I ran head first into a bevy of reviews that tore the film to shreds. Granted, everyone has their own opinion, but for those who loathed the movie, the collective dislike is based on the ludicrous.

Granted, I don’t particularly care for the title, since THE DAY is open to any interpretation. However, I do appreciate screenwriter Luke Passmore’s notion to keep it simple. After all, the story revolves about the experience of a group of survivors in a post-Apocalyptic world that takes place in one day. And since the quintet has little to look forward to, except to survive, it is just another “day” and nothing more. Unlike our early ancestors, which delved into art, raised families, and helped create what became “humanity”, this tale is almost its anti-thesis. We have intelligent people taking a road that leads to “inhumanity”.

What we never learn is what happened ten years ago to bring about the degradation of society. And this seems to bother many people who want answers instead of using their collective imagination. Worst still, the reason society has been upended is not the point of the narrative. Not by a long shot. Therefore, what had occurred is meaningless. Just like the characters, persisting in day-to-day monotony and drudgery, the audience is thrust into the group as if we’ve been trudging along with the rag tag band. Soon, this makeshift family finds what they hope is an abandoned farmhouse, which sets the goings-on in motion. This leaves our heroes in a siege, and they must find a way to stand up to take on another day against another hungry family. (With the encirclement and subsequent claustrophobia, one recalls John Carpenter’s 1976 action/adventure, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT THIRTEEN.)

One reviewer stated this can be an offshoot to John Hillcoat’s THE ROAD (2009), based upon Cormac McCarthy’s novel, and I tend to agree. I can’t recall hearing or seeing a bird in the film, or any other animal for that matter, so they must be scarce. However, they must exist in small numbers because people have survived some ten years later, and they must live on something. Furthermore, due to the breakdown of our status quo, and one can only guess what else is missing from the norm, it seems that agriculture is no longer a viable option. Then again, Passmore makes it clear that we’ve become nomads, which means there wouldn’t be much reaping and sowing happening in the fields, though reaping and sowing on an existential level is definitely on the menu. Like THE ROAD, survivors have resorted to cannibalism to enjoy another sunrise.

We’ve seen many dystopian, post-destruction stories, where characters somehow adopt the coolest and most impractical clothes on the planet. Yes, it’s fabulous to see Milla Jovovich in leather in the RESIDENT EVIL franchise, but the lack of reality is laughable. You don’t see ridiculous costumes in THE DAY, and I fell in love right from the beginning when I saw the group in normal, average attire. Many thanks go to costume designer Candice Beuckx for keeping it very real. Even the bad guys don’t dress up like Humongous and company from the MAD MAX series. This detail alone is enough to make one realize there’s something more here than your average midnite movie horror.

To better capture the tone and that tiresome feel of fighting to live every day, where everything seems to blend, cinematographer Boris Mojsovski relies on washed out tones to capture that weary element. No, the film is not black and white, as others have stated, but it is a step away from sepia tone. Mojsovski’s photographic work captures the monochromatic and bleak mindset of the characters, and it’s far from pretty.

Of the five in our special little survival group, two stand out. Shannyn Sossamon delivers one hell of a performance as Shannon, the woman who has nearly developed OCD about keeping her “family” unit together. Her loyalty in such a horrid, bland world is easy to grasp, but her devotion may prove fatal if she takes it to the extreme. Then again, Shannon’s fear of losing her family is completely understandable: They’re all she has, and existing on her own is not an option. Amazingly, Ashley Bell’s stellar turn as Mary, is breathtaking, riveting, and even outshines Ms. Sossamon. Mary is the newbie to the group, and it’s clear she has her own demons to battle. (We’ve seen her brilliant portrayal of the embattled Nell from 2010’s THE LAST EXORCISM.) But Mary’s quiet demeanor, bordering on being aloof, makes Shannon uneasy. Regardless, Mary, in a simple dress, can kill with the best of them – think of Elizabeth McGovern in “The Twilight Zone” episode “Two.” Both woman capture characters with a light and a dark side, trying to find balance in a world where anything goes, and where the idea of “humanity” is in question.

Some reviewers have stated that the characters lack development. I guess they have trouble grasping the idea of subtlety, or that dialogue reveals only so much. Passmore brings us good characters that have to be bad in order to survive, and a group of “bad” characters that, well, have to be bad in order to survive. The quintet’s nemesis is Father (Michael Eklund), who is trying to raise two children while feeding his extended family. He’s not leading a gang or even a horde, but a group of hunter-gatherers trying to protect their little village as they scour for meat. Cannibalism is not a life choice here, but something born of necessity. Father is in effect a fledgling feudal lord, trying to maintain order in a group that can turn on him – and eat him – at any moment. But he’s not worried about himself, he’s only concerned about the future for his children, though he may sacrifice the bulk of his collective if need be to prove he can be a king of sorts. In this regard, Father represents early civilization, even at its most uncivil.

Passmore’s characterization in THE DAY is just enough to help us get our bearings to see how the tale plays out. Unfortunately, what plays out happens at night, and this is where either Aarniokoski, or Mojsovski, or both, fail the audience. The washed out look of the day becomes overwhelmingly dark at night, which means it’s extremely difficult, and ultimately impossible to follow the action. We can see the glint of metal and muzzle flashes during the battle, and hear the cries of the wounded and dying, but we see very little. If anything. Then again, this excessive use of unrelenting darkness may be symbolic. In this case, the filmmakers may be stating that both sides are the very same. Therefore, whoever’s left at the end of the day is all that matters when survival comes into play.

The only other fault with the film is the CGI effects from Switch VFX. Granted, most are excellent, but I’m tired of the third-rate computer generated blood spatter, which is so easy to spot. Additionally, the one “bayonet scene” is off kilter and needs to be refined.

Beyond the rock solid ending, Passmore brings us the strongest element everyone worked hard to capture: theme. And what the filmmakers ask is quite simple: How does one maintain humanity in an inhumane world? Granted, there’s no easy answer. In fact, it may be rhetorical. (Rumor has it that the cannibal clan were originally supposed to be zombies. If the change hadn’t been made, the through line of theme would have been a non-factor, and the movie would have left little emotional impact on the audience.) We’re also left to wonder, in our hubris and self-entitlement, at least in American culture, if we really can band together to recreate a new world once this one falls by the wayside. Passmore and Aarniokoski clearly believe otherwise, and in an intelligent manner give us food for thought, especially when an older generation representative meets up a young up and comer. What happens next? Will we meet on common ground to move forward as a species? Again, the audience must discuss and come to their own determination. Aarniokoski and company have presented an extended scene, and we must imagine the rest.

The three staples of logos, ethos, and pathos come into play, making THE DAY a far cry from a “leave your brain at the door” slasher horror. The film is an entertaining and intelligent enterprise designed to raise questions in our collective consciousness, and not to have us cry foul. Rent it now, and judge for yourself.

4 out of 5 stars

(Movie poster photo from Worleygig.)

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