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5 Underseen Apocalypse Movies To Accompany 'Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World'

by Oliver Lyttelton
June 22, 2012 1:12 PM
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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.

"Kairo" (2001)
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."

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  • Dave Carter | June 24, 2012 11:39 PMReply

    Anybody here seen the Russian 'Letters from a dead man' (or 'Dead man's letters)? Visually, it's the best + truest post-apocalypse film i've seen. It makes 'The Road' look like a Coke commercial

  • TheoC | June 23, 2012 12:45 PMReply

    Quiet Earth? (think it's the title) Kiwi movie from the 80's is an end of the world favourite of mine.

  • Ian | June 22, 2012 7:42 PMReply

    Miracle Mile is another good one. It's very 80s and has characters behaving oddly for the sake of plot mechanics, but otherwise it's a pretty underrated, cool little flick with some great Tangerine Dream music. Strangely, a lot of the beats wound up lifted and used in Cloverfield.

  • Lois | June 22, 2012 3:20 PMReply

    Contra your article, Don McKellar's script for "Blindness" was amazingly humane and beautiful -- it was the execution of said script that dragged it down. I wish you had been a bit more thoughtful before pouncing on the screenplay. I suspect you a) haven't read it, or b) haven't watched the movie closely enough to parse the difference between the script and the execution.

  • Xian | June 22, 2012 2:25 PMReply

    Wow... how could you not list the underseen, and still amazingly fun and terrific (for an apocalypse movie), "Miracle Mile" (dir. Steve De Jarnatt). It's one of the best 80s films to deal with nuclear annihilation, and adds a zany romantic angle as well (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl but then all hell breaks loose, boy and girl stay together, merged together like diamonds). A must see for any fan of apocalyptic films. Highly recommended.

  • MAL | June 22, 2012 1:43 PMReply

    Glad to see "Last Night" and "When the Wind Blows" on this list. I just saw von Trier's "Melancholia" a couple of weeks ago and think that, if nothing else, it should be an honourable mention here. It was fascinating, haunting, and well-focused on character transitions in the face of the apocalypse. And I never would have thought it, but Kirsten Dunst's performance was truly remarkable and brave!

  • Arch | June 22, 2012 1:26 PMReply

    Wow ; when I read the title I thought "Of course Kairo won't be in it" ... yet it is ! It's Kiyoshi Kurosawa's week on The Playlist. Again: nice move (that said Slate's list is mostly a joke !).

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