Constructed from a patchwork of postapocalyptic cliches, populated by two-dimensional characters who speak in laughably hyperbolic dialogue, and driven by a wafer-thin plot that literally goes nowhere, The Day has all the makings of a complete disaster. But heavy atmosphere, a stoic performance by The Last Exorcism’s Ashley Bell, and some thoughtful reflection on what it really means to be stripped of humanity save Douglas Aarniokoski’s bleak I Am Legend clone from being cannibalized by its own pronounced shortcomings.
Ten years after society collapsed following an unspecified catastrophe, survivors Rick (Dominic Monaghan), Adam (Shawn Ashmore), Henson (Cory Hardrict), Shannon (Shannyn Sossamon), and Mary (Ashley Bell) wander aimlessly across the scorched earth, seeking sustenance and shelter from the roving bands of cannibals who consume the living. The travelers happen across a lonely farmhouse that appears to be the perfect place to regroup and allow the ailing Henson to rest before they resume their endless journey. But just when they think they’ve found an oasis of hope in a world gone to hell, a sudden alarm cuts through the eerie silence, signaling a fresh meal to the ruthless flesh eaters who have sacrificed their humanity in the name of survival. As danger approaches, the terrified survivors learn that lone wolf Mary isn’t what she appears to be. A fierce warrior with a bitter grudge against the savages that are surrounding the house, she’s their only hope for survival as the siege begins. Now, over the course of one grueling night, Adam and the rest of the gang realize they must put their trust in an apocryphal ally in order to plant the seeds of a new society in the ashes of the old one.
Almost everything about The Day -- the simple title, the opening shots of the exhausted survivors shuffling along a lonely country road, the growing tension as the group arrive at the farmhouse and search for signs of life, the villainous cannibals, the mysterious disaster that brought about the downfall of civilization -- evokes vivid memories of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But whereas McCarthy’s approach to the apocalypse was more poetic in tone, Aarniokoski and screenwriter Luke Passmore opt for a B-movie approach that favors tension over meditation. And although Passmore’s dialogue is laughably melodramatic at times, the conflict he sets up between the survivors and Mary is strong enough to support the screenplay’s humble ambitions, and the actors are committed enough to ensure that the illusion is largely maintained. Likewise, Passmore’s decision to make three of the characters former classmates proves an effective method of not only detailing just how much they’ve changed in the ten years since the world as they knew it ended, but also in setting them apart from the intruder whose true intentions remain shrouded in mystery. Curiously, it’s that same character who proves The Day’s biggest asset when we see Mary’s cool façade brutally torn away, and Bell makes her struggle to maintain her compassion really resonate.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Aarniokoski and Passmore offer nothing new in a subgenre that’s seen nearly every grim scenario imaginable played out on the screen, and the desaturated, nearly monochromatic cinematography only serves to reinforce just how uninspired the whole endeavor feels. Occasional bursts of bloody, brutal action certainly help to hide the highly derivative nature of The Day, though the largely ambient score by Rock Mafia does little to get the blood pumping. By the climax, when the filmmakers resort to a scare tactic better suited to Internet shock videos than feature movies, it appears the creative well has finally run dry. Thankfully, they manage to pull it together for a gruesome coda that raises some fascinating questions about mankind’s ultimate fate, and helps to offset the frustration of knowing we’ve been down this road before. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan