Review: The Last Days / Cert: 15 / Director: David Pastor, Àlex Pastor / Screenplay: David Pastor, Àlex Pastor / Starring: Quim Gutiérrez, José Coronado, Marta Etura, Leticia Dolera / Release Date: Out Now
Following on from their debut feature Carriers in 2009, sibling directors David and Àlex Pastor deliver another tale of personal survival amidst a global pandemic where fear and self-preservation have become humanity’s primary instincts.
Three months after an outbreak known as the Panic, which saw an unexplained spread of agoraphobia so extreme that anyone going outside is literally scared to death, computer programmer Marc, who was trapped in his office when the outbreak hit, attempts to cross the city to find his girlfriend Julia, journeying through sewers and underground tunnels until he finds her.
Post-apocalyptic films are never going to go out of fashion. Their requirements of small casts, sparse sets and simple stories mean that their settings are perfect for independent and low-budget filmmakers who might not have access to ridiculous amounts of studio funding. The Last Days’ vision of the deteriorating society of Barcelona is rendered in a simple yet striking manner. Shopping centres and underground stations are populated by small groups huddled around burning oil drums, people argue over bottles of water, rats chewing on corpses go unremarked upon and ignored, and thugs with guns are the most powerful individuals around. We also get occasional glimpses of the empty desolation of the outside streets, the bright light of the sun almost mocking in its inviting temptation, willing people to give up their miserable life of cramped squalor and embrace the fatal freedom of open space. When we see someone being affected by the Panic, their terror is signified by sharp camera angles, blinding lights and tinny flares of sound, as if their very senses are overwhelming all comprehension of their own existence.
Even though the spread of the outbreak is worldwide, the far-reaching implications for the rest of the world are only briefly touched upon. The cause of the pandemic is never revealed – nor even more than superficially speculated upon – and seeing as it’s effectively irrelevant this is a good thing. An investigation into what caused everyone’s intense agoraphobia would be a distraction, as even if it were discovered there would be little anyone could do about it. This is a much more personal tale, doubtless only one of any number of similar struggles taking place at the same time anywhere in the world.
What makes Marc so relatable is that he’s utterly unremarkable. Possessing no special knowledge or relevant skills, his relentless determination to be reunited with Julia keeps both him and the viewer equally focused on the path ahead and fearful for the dangers it holds, especially when he makes a discovery about her halfway through the film. His companion Enrique, previously a management consultant at Marc’s office, is on an equally personal mission to reach the hospital his father was being treated in. Throughout the journey, their conversations about the thoughts and feelings that keep them going make us empathise with their plight and wish for them to succeed. This is the final message the film leaves us with, that even when living a perpetual nightmare trapped in a crumbling city of a decaying world, there is always still hope.