The Horror Honeys: WHERE WILL YOU BE WHEN THE PANIC HITS?

WHERE WILL YOU BE WHEN THE PANIC HITS?

A Sci-Fi Honey Review by Katie

The Last Days (Los Últimos Días) (2014)

It’s a beautiful day outside, but the ill-fated citizens of Àlex and David Pastor’s The Last Days (Los Últimos Días) are experiencing it through double-paned glass.  We open in a high-rise office building, where men and women are sleeping in makeshift beds made of cobbled-together cubicle furniture, clad in rumpled business attire and sporting mussed hair, men in unkempt beards.  One such man picks up a desk phone, checks the line: nothing.  He doesn’t seem surprised.  Gazing into the sprawling cityscape of Barcelona, he sees plumes of smoke rising from numerous structure fires across the city, the streets empty with not a moving vehicle or pedestrian in sight.  Resigned, he takes an elevator to the building’s parking garage, where his coworkers are doing everything in their power to chisel through a wall.  At long last, they break through the concrete and peer into a subway tunnel, stating triumphantly: “we finally made it!”  

Made it WHERE?  WHAT is going on here?!  This sequence lasts only a few minutes and comes before the opening titles, but does an amazing job of setting this film’s peculiar tone and already had me completely hooked in, wanting to learn more.

The film doesn’t supply easy answers in a neatly linear fashion, but over time we learn about these characters and the dire post-apocalyptic future they find themselves living in.  Our beardy and weary hero is Marc (Quim Gutiérrez), a corporate drone working hard on not getting fired after his company hires Enrique (José Coronado), nicknamed “The Terminator,” to thin out the less-than-productive staff.  Marc comes home every night to a beautiful girlfriend, Julia, who wants to have his baby.  Life is good, but is on the verge of change, and bizarre things are happening in the periphery of this story: a kid on the news commits suicide after not leaving his house for six months.  Marc’s coworker has been inexplicably sleeping in his office, afraid to leave the building.  People are staying indoors more than usual, and suddenly, “The Panic” strikes: a man who is forced outside has a violent seizure and dies.  For no discernible reason, all of humanity is suddenly crippled by a paralyzing fear of being outdoors, forcing all who are overcome with The Panic to remain where they are when it takes hold.  Months later, Marc is relegated to his office building with Enrique and his coworkers; and with no phone or electricity, he’s been unable to reach Julia, and has no idea where she is. Agoraphobia has become a virus, and everyone infected too petrified to step into a wide-open space.  

The animals, though, are totally cool with it. 
It’s an intriguing premise in it’s own right, but the Pastor brothers – who have experience with viral-pandemic narratives after their 2009 film Carriers – do enough with the characters, visuals, and story of this film to sustain the intrigue until the end.  The Panic itself is subtle and insidious, with those experiencing it just as baffled as the audience: was it caused by a volcanic ash cloud?  Cellphone radioactivity?  Aliens?  Plant neurotoxins that Mark Wahlberg needs a second to think about?  Or is it simply a hoax, perpetuated by the media and mass hysteria?  Regardless of the answer, the fear is real, and the consequence of setting foot outside your door is certain and agonizing death.  What drives this film’s narrative is the central relationship between two former adversaries, Marc and Enrique, who must band together to navigate subterranean tunnels and sewers to find the people they’ve lost after The Panic set in.  As they bond over their communal experiences and the shared purpose of finding their loved ones, Marc and Enrique develop a rather touching respect and mutual understanding.  The two eventually share laughs while eating fire-roasted meat from a wild bear they just fought and slaughtered in a church; and yes, that scene is just as fucking rad as it sounds.

Because nothing says "male bonding" like a little "bear butchery."
As is often the case with post-apocalyptic stories, the hostile environment or even the presence of a “monster” is not as terrifying as what average human beings are capable of when supplies are scarce and fear sets in.  In one scene, Marc encounters a supermarket that has become a fortress, surrounded by a shopping-cart barrier and torches, guarded by those who are unwilling to compromise their own survival to share their rations with others.  It’s a very real consequence of struggling to endure a desperate situation, and you’re screwed if you end up pissing off someone who is already at the summit of their paranoia.  Suddenly, the thought of going outside is not as bad as confronting the alternative of a life lived indoors facing eternal gloom, loneliness, and ever-dwindling supplies.  The Panic is so substantial, though, that trying to make it into another building separated by merely a courtyard can seem like an impossible distance to navigate.

Yeah, thanks, NOT going out there.
There are two ways to end a dystopian tale; whether it is ambiguous or not, there’s got to be a glimmer of hope, or an element of despair.  The note that the Pastor brothers close The Last Days on will likely be the deciding factor on whether or not fans of these types of films leave this experience loving or hating it.  For this Sci-Fi Honey, The Last Days is more about the perilous journey than the destination, taking us on some dark and desperate stops along the way.  It’s an inspired entry in the post-apocalyptic genre, and worth a couple hours spent indoors to explore.


Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four crippling fits of The Panic out of five.