The Day The World Ended



USA 2001 : Calum Grant & Joshua Atesh Little : 78mins

By striking coincidence, Ever Since the World Ended received its UK festival premiere only hours before Danny Boyle’s much-hyped variation on similar themes, 28 Days Later, hit the country’s multiplex screens. Ever Since was completed before Days Later began, but both are direct, DV-shot products of the anxious global zeitgeist that marked the transition from 1999 to 2000 – and there are striking similarities between Grant and Little’s digitally-enhanced images of a deserted, eerily quiet San Francisco and Boyle’s similarly ‘tweaked’ vistas of an abandoned, eerily quiet London.

Grant and Little had even less cash to work with than Boyle’s low budget, however, and their special-effects shots comprise brief glimpses of the Golden Gate bridge in (convincing) disrepair, and a ship rotting in harbour. This is a deliberately unspectacular kind of apocalypse – apart from the final few seconds, Ever Since The World Ended is in fact ‘Ever Since the World Ended : a film by Cal and Josh.’ These are supposedly two of humanity’s scattered handfuls of survivors left after mankind was all but wiped out mysterious ‘plague’ some twelve years before.

The pair interview some of the 196 remaining inhabitants of San Francisco’s Bay Area, assembling a rough-and-ready portrait of the community that alternates between straight (mostly very well-acted) talking-head footage and slightly arty sequences shot in and around the city – some of them quite eerily poetic – and one abortive expedition into the hazardous upstate hinterland.

The faux-docu format has one obvious benefit for inexperienced film-makers like Grant and Little – any error or misjudgements can be blamed on the fictional ‘Cal and Josh’ rather than the real Cal and Josh, and further excused by the unusual circumstances in which the ‘film’ (effectively an epochal rebirth of the dormant cinematic medium) was shot and edited. During the longer interviews, sound and vision soon spool out of synch, but the effect is agreeably unsettling rather than distractingly amateurish.

As with 28 Days Later, however, viewers probably will be troubled by fundamental issues of plausibility – once again, there’s a baffling lack of rodent infestation. And in Ever Since there’s no infrastructure which would feasibly allow the survivors access to the perishables we see them consume, like cigarettes and make-up. The 12-year gap is sufficient for the initial feelings of grief and bewilderment to subside – but even so, these people do seem remarkably nonchalant about the deaths of countless millions around the world.

The time-frame is enough, however, for a new generation to have emerged into a world utterly different from that of their parents’ crowded planet, a vanished Earth which they can scarcely believe ever existed. This is the most intriguing aspect of Grant and Little’s script, which suggests that growing up in such a low-pressure, low-distraction, low-technology world would have some clear benefits for children (it’s as much a critique of modern urban living as anything else) but also some vivid dangers. The Bay Area has explicitly become, in every way, a frontier community – one where the tiny population means tough decisions of life and death have to be made on a daily basis. And the younger folk turn out to have some alarmingly clear responses to what the adults see as moral dilemmas.

These come to the fore when the upstate journey turns suddenly violently sour and one of the trekkers is injured – Ever Since suddenly sheds its intriguing, darkly comic, slow-burning atmosphere and turns briefly (but disastrously) into yet another Blair Witch knock-off, with the hand-held video camera charging through undergrowth as screams ring out through the forest. It’s a shame that Grant and Little feel the need to pep up the second half of their film with such unwelcome injections of melodrama, which only end up dragging the movie down well-trodden, predictable paths. Movies like Ever Since and 28 Days Later are intriguing precisely because of so many everyday things being absent – but even when the human race may be all but extinct, it seems that movieland traditions take much longer to die out.

3rd November, 2002
(seen 30th October, The Other Cinema, London – Raindance Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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