Last Days, The (Los Ultimos Dias) (2013)
Directed by David Pastor and Àlex Pastor
The apocalypse comes from within in David and Àlex Pastor's Spanish-language tale of contemporary social breakdown The Last Days ( Los Últimos Días in its native tongue), which sees the entire population of modern-day Barcelona rapidly consumed by "The Panic." An extreme case of rapid-onset agoraphobia, The Panic causes anyone who sets foot outside to swiftly enter a state of meltdown -- convulsions, hysteria, bleeding from the ears and ultimately death are the price to pay for stepping out for some fresh air.
Stuck in work on the day it all goes south is protagonist Marc (Gutiérrez), and fate really couldn't have picked a worse day to drop its payload on the human race. As the post-apocalyptic section of the film begins two months after the outbreak, we learn through flashbacks that Marc had recently had a terrible argument with his girlfriend, Julia (Etura), and was also one of many on that day in the office to potentially have his head on the chopping block at the hands of management consultant Enrique (Coronado).
With the new community formed within the confines of the office building succeeding in mining their way through the subsection walls in order to reach the subway lines beyond, Marc and Enrique form an uneasy partnership (one has obtained a sat nav, the other a much-needed flashlight) and embark on a mission to a) reach Marc and Julia's apartment so that Marc may be reunited with his love, and b) reach the hospital where Enrique's father has been undergoing treatment.
This all proves no easy task when the very fabric of society has collapsed, and traversing outside spaces is impossible in what is an exceptionally well realised vision of the apocalypse. Set design and locations are all top-notch and by their very nature should look familiar to anyone versed in the styling of the Metro 2033 video game universe. Similarly excellent is the cinematography that brings this world to life, imbued with a rich sense of place and impressively cinematic style. Sequences such as a beastly encounter within the confines of a church and a battle sequence between warring factions in a barricaded shopping mall look fabulous.
At the core of The Last Days, though, are the characters. This is, on the base level, simply a story of two people attempting to overcome insurmountable odds in order to reach those who mean the most to them, and Gutiérrez and Coronado pull it off with ease. Both men's plights are equally heartfelt, and thus all the more devastating each time things don't exactly work out. The growing friendship between the two is convincingly developed, and when both laugh over the reality that yes, Enrique did intend to fire Marc on that fateful day, it's a warming, pleasant moment that also indicates the writing/directing duo's refusal to generate easy, forced conflict within their story. These men have enough to deal with now, and they both know it. No one performance stands out here as particularly sub-par; side characters such as Julia's sister, Andrea (played by gorgeous [REC]3: Genesis star Leticia Dolera), and a family whom Enrique and Marc discover squatting all make a positive mark on the film.
Unfortunately, while the story and characters are generally strong, the directors often fail to capitalise on the potential for claustrophobia and of being caught outside unawares or unintentionally. It's all very "A to B" stuff, with little deviation from the course. Similarly, an early encounter with a vicious gang of thieves appears to set up a set of antagonists to pursue Enrique and Marc during their quest but ultimately goes nowhere. The ending, too, is far too saccharine for its own good and in itself carries a rather strange message regarding the subtext of The Panic as an affliction.
Despite these failings, the film remains a consistently captivating, well drawn and frequently touching vision of the apocalypse. Excellent visuals, an emotive score and strong characters with real motivations and realistic relationships create a survival story with more heart than most, helping raise The Last Days far above par for post-apocalyptic drama.
4 out of 5