By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 22, 2012 at 1:12PM
Apocalypse is an ever-popular idea in cinema. After all, what could be more dramatic than the possibility -- or even the actuality -- of the end of everyone and everything that you've ever known. It's an all purpose metaphor, and can be used to tell all kinds of stories, in all kinds of tones, as highlighted by this weekend's comedy-drama "Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World," which sees Steve Carell and Keira Knightley brought together by the impending end of civilization.
The film's only semi-successful at melding romantic comedy with the end of days, as you'll find from our review, but there's plenty in the film to recommend it as well. And if you're still looking for a little more end-of-the-world drama, we've picked out five lesser-known examples that are worth seeking out ASAP. Check out our selections below, and let us know your own favorites in the comments section.
On the surface, "Kairo" (or "Pulse," to use the English title, and that of the spectacularly inferior U.S. remake, which starred Kristen Bell, Christina Milian and Samm Levine, of all people) looks like just another J-horror picture of the kind that were so popular in the early 00s. It has eerie spirits appearing on screens, grisly deaths, and an overwhelming mood of dread. But director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has bigger things on his mind than the relatively small scope of "The Ring" and "The Grudge," talking about the way in which technology isolates us, and bringing it to apocalpytic ends. It starts with two parallel storylines: Kudo Michi (Kumiko Aso), whose colleague kills himself after discovering a ghostly face on his monitor, and Ryosuke (Haruhiko Kato) a student whose computer starts asking him "Do you want to see a ghost?" Both segments are terrifying, full of imagery that will haunt you for weeks, but as more and more people around them disappear (red tape over their apartment doors signifying this), and society starts to crumble (including a plane crashing from the skies, which are turning black), the existential dread -- caused, it would seem, by nothing more complex than extreme loneliness -- becomes almost unbearable. Even surviving everything else isn't necessarily enough; at the end, escaping to Latin America, Ryosuke loses the will to live, and crumbles into ash. It's not entirely narratively coherent, to an almost Lynchian degree (backed up by the spectacular use of sound design), but you always feel that the opaque quality of the picture is to its advantage. Buried by the Weinsteins in favor of the remake, the film's finally beginning to get the critical respect it deserves (Slate named it as the greatest horror film of the century so far in a poll last year), and cinephiles are finally discovering one of the most terrifying celluloid apocalypses ever put on screen.
"Last Night" (1998)
An obvious inspiration for "Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World," Don McKellar's "Last Night" arrived in the same year as megabudget apocalyptic asteroid movies "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon," and felt all the better for its quiet, character driven approach compared with their bombastic, sentimental nature. The directorial debut of actor and screenwriter McKellar ("Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould," "The Red Violin"), it's set on the eve of an unnamed event that will cause the death of the planet, and everyone on it, and follows a stalwart group of Canadian cinema's finest, including David Cronenberg as the owner of a power company, Sandra Oh as his wife, McKellar as a widower who enters into a suicide pact with her, Callum Keith Rennie as a man sworn to go out fucking, and Sarah Polley as McKellar's sister. For the most part, the director brings a lovely sense of detail and specificity to it; this is, you suspect, how the world will go out, not so much with a whimper, but more with just a sudden stop. It does feel a little sprawling and unfocused, but not distractingly so, because most of the people it touches on, from Cronenberg's meticulous, dedicated public servant to Genevieve Bujold's high school teacher finally giving in to her attraction to Rennie's character, a former pupil, are worth spending time with. It increasingly feels like a definitive take on the end-of-the-world flick, and it's only a shame that McKellar couldn't bring the same humanity and humor to his script for a later apocalypse film, Fernando Mereilles' "Blindness."