Adrian Grenier, bad films, bad soldiers, Ben McKenzie, Caroline Dhavernas, co-writers, college friends, cyber-terrorism, Denis Hennelly, end of the world, Gaby Hoffmann, Goodbye World, Kerry Bishe, Laura Kachergus, Linc Hand, Mark Webber, McKenna Grace, nostalgia, post-Apocalyptic, power grid, Remy Nozik, Scott Mescudi, terrible films, The Big Chill, The Walking Dead, writer-director
If you think about it, small-scale, low-budget post-apocalyptic films should be one of the easiest types of movies to pull off. After all, the various elements are practically codified, at this point: get a small batch of varied survivors together, preferably in a small, claustrophobic space and give them something to worry about outside the “safety” of their enclosure (nuclear fallout, zombies, biological terrorism, other humans, mutant animals, yadda yadda). Let the various survivors form groups and factions, then have them fight with each other for survival and/or supremacy. Throw in a few “surprise” romances, some “shocking” betrayals and a few morsels about how humanity tends to devolve into animalistic chaos at the first sign of societal upheaval et voila: you have yourself a decent little post-apocalyptic thriller/chiller/downer.
When done competently, these type of films can be dependable, if unspectacular, exercises, similar to competently made found-footage films: nothing amazing but decent enough to watch and, at the very least, marginally entertaining. When done exceptionally well, however, post-apocalyptic “survival” films can be quite special little affairs: recent efforts like It’s a Disaster (2012), This is the End (2013) and Rapture-Palooza (2013) have tackled the apocalypse from a humorous angle, while dead-serious efforts like Time of the Wolf (2003), The Road (2009), The Divide (2012) and The Colony (2013) tend to dwell on the more miserable side of surviving the end times. Let’s not forget zombies (Dawn of the Dead (1978), Night of the Comet (1984)), environmental issues (12 Monkeys (1995), Take Shelter (2011), Hell (2011)) and relationship travails (Melancholia (2011), Seeking a Friend For the End of the World (2012)), all of which make for great apocalyptic fodder. As I’ve pointed out, you can make a good (or great) post-apocalyptic survival flick out of just about anything: the sky, literally, is the limit.
With all of that being said, however, writer-director Denis Hennelly’s Goodbye World (2013) is that other kind of post-apocalyptic survival film: the shitty kind. Without putting too fine a point on it, Hennelly’s film is almost complete and total garbage, a perfect trifecta of bad acting, obnoxious characters, a terrible script, tonal inconsistencies out the wazoo and a laughable resolution that’s so trite that it’s actually kind of insulting. If anything, Goodbye World comes across as a brain-dead, post-apocalyptic The Big Chill (1983), a bizarro-world version of The Walking Dead that replaces the zombies with annoying former college roommates and power-tripping wannabe-military tough guys. This, friends and neighbors, is the living definition of a film that I saw so that you don’t have to…you can thank me later.
In short order, we’re introduced to our rather large and unwieldy cast of clichés: James (Adrian Grenier), Lily (Kerry Bishe) and daughter, Hannah (McKenna Grace) are the “eco-friendly” family that lives off the grid; Benji (Mark Webber) and girlfriend, Ariel (Remy Nozik) are the “revolutionaries” who want to bring down the system; Lev (Scott Mescudi) is the (apparently) mildly autistic computer genius whose botched suicide attempt kicks off the destruction of the world’s power grid; Nick (Ben McKenzie) is James and Lily’s former business partner (and Lily’s former lover) who’s brought his new girlfriend, Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) and Laura (Gabby Hoffmann) is the form college friend who hates Becky with a passion.
These idiots all descend on James and Lily’s farm after an apparent cyber-attack has destroyed the world’s power grid: lights, phones, gas pumps and ATMs no longer work, which would be bad enough, but the loss of modern accouterments has an even more dire effect: it forces these ninnies to reexamine their old relationships, friendships and arguments, all while trapped together on an out-of-the-way farm. Since this is a modern post-apocalyptic survival film, we know that we can’t trust any kind of authority, especially from the armed forces. When a couple of sinister supposed National Guardsmen show up and want to bunker down at the group’s homestead, James and his gang show them the door, post-haste. If you can guess that we haven’t seen the last of the military guys…well, maybe you should have written the script, then, smarty-pants.
Look, here’s the thing: I can couch this in as many (or as few) niceties as possible but the bottom-line is pretty black-and-white: Goodbye World is an awful film. If one could somehow look past the thoroughly unlikable characters (in particular, Lily is one of the shittiest, most obnoxious, horrible characters I’ve managed to get stuck with in some 30 years of watching movies…and she only gets WORSE when combined with her old flame, Nick) and more miss-than-hit acting, you’re still stuck with a real donkey of a script. This is the kind of film that pulls one of those hoary old “talent show” scenes out of a moldy top hat and pretends that it’s some kind of narrative revelation: rarely have I wanted to claw my eyes out more than when Gabby Hoffmann waxes philosophic about playing George Washington in historical re-enactments.
Not only is there nothing original to be found here but the filmmakers manage to mess up even the most basic post-apocalyptic survival film beats: it’s like trying to make an omelet with Cheese Whiz, straw and roofing shingles. It’s pretty much a given that the film displays a distressingly low-level of tension (think a slightly “edgier” Afterschool Special) but it also manages to do away with anything that might offer the slightest bit of pleasure or entertainment factor for the audience. I’ve watched plenty of films where I thought, “Hmm…this is pretty awful, except for ________.” Goodbye World is the rare film where I was at a complete loss to fill in the blank: what actually worked here? As a point of comparison, Kevin Costner’s The Postman (1997) has seemed to occupy the pole position as far as universally derided post-apocalyptic movies go for almost two decades now: in this instance, The Postman comes off like The Godfather (1972) compared to Hennelly’s “opus.”
By the time the film works its way to a “resolution” that manages to not only pair up most of the characters but give them weepy “emotional” scenes to boot, I was way beyond through with this bit of foolishness. My favorite low point? The ridiculously hokey “Daily Bubble” routine between James, Lily and Hannah that’s somehow inflated to become a societal metaphor by the film’s final scene. Here’s the thing, though: if we get to the end of the world and we need to rely on this cast of characters for salvation…well…just take my word for it and stick a fork in the Earth. When given the choice between perishing or starting a new world with these idiots, I’ll take the dirt-nap any day of the week.