At first, watching The Day feels a little like sitting through Post-Apocalyptic Movie Making 101. It opens on a gray, lonely road littered with gray rubble shot through a gray filter. Five gray figures slowly walk toward us and come into focus. They’re dirty, tired, and clad in a multitude of cargo pockets and hoods and flaps. So far so good, director Douglas Aarniokoski, but for extra credit, are they also armed and on the run from an unknown enemy? Excellent. You get a gold star! But once these tropes are established and have a minute or two to settle, that’s when things get interesting.
The group comes across an abandoned house in the countryside, and the specifics of these characters and their situation start to come to light. Their leader is Rick (Dominic Monaghan). Adam (Shawn Ashmore) and Henson (Cory Hardrict) are longtime friends of his. Shannon (Shannyn Sossamon) is Rick’s girlfriend, and Mary (Ashley Bell) is the quiet, mysterious loner. Rick is carrying some seeds in a pair of jars that he believes will be their salvation once they can safely settle down, presumably since much of the world’s flora and fauna are gone in the aftermath of the unnamed catastrophe.
In this decade-old new world order, humanity has been split down the middle into two factions defined by a single characteristic: cannibalism. Those who aren’t above it to survive have banded together into roving clans to hunt and serve up those who refuse to chow down, like Rick and his group. Most of this is revealed incidentally, in passing dialogue and imagery, and the audience has to pick up on it, as opposed to the leaden and glaringly obvious exposition that befalls so much of this and other geek genres. So, extra points for that.
Shortly after they arrive at the house, the post-apocalyptic poop hits the fan, and for the rest of the film they find themselves in a vicious, bloody battle to survive against their pursuers.
Horror and action movies are often compared to porn, and rightly so, in that very often the plot and characters serve as mere window dressing to frame the true stars: the individual sequences of sex, or car chases, or splattered blood. The Day certainly lives up to that comparison by being surprisingly unflinching in its depiction of brutality and gore. It’s also an equal-opportunity ass-kicker, which means that women and children are fair game. This, frankly, is part of its dark charm, at least to those who don’t take offense at the thought.
Unfortunately, also like porn, not all the performances are up to snuff. Ashley Bell, who earned raves for her work in The Last Exorcism, doesn’t quite have the grit to pull off the world-weariness and take-no-prisoners bravado in her pivotal role. At the end of The Day, you’ll likely give as much thought to Shannyn Sossamon as she gave to her fleeting Southern accent.
Some of the digital effects are shoddy, and the script periodically veers into ham-fisted, made-for-TV territory. But all that is beside the point. The Day is slick, tense and full of viscerally satisfying moments. It knows what the audience wants, and delivers it without overstaying its welcome.
Director: Douglas Aarniokoski
Writer: Luke Passmore
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Ashley Bell, Michael Eklund, Cory Hardrict, Dominic Monaghan, Shannyn Sossamon
Release Date: Aug. 29, 2012 (limited)