A fascinating if frustrating apocalyptic drama, Jorge Torregrossa’s debut, “The End,” is less about big bangs, and more about questioning silences. Adopting the high-risk strategy of raising dramatic and existential questions to which it offers no answers, this stylishly made tale of a group of fortysomethings who mysteriously disappear fuses low-grade sci-fi with high-minded ideas, so that auds prepared to go all the way with its crazed logic will enjoy it more than those seeking straightforward thrills. Visually polished and always intriguing, the pic confirms that, whatever its failings, Spanish genre cinema isn’t lacking ambition. Presales have been brisk.
Accompanied by girlfriend Eva (Clara Lago), Felix (Daniel Grao) returns for a reunion with his old gang at the remote rural house where they partied a little too wildly 20 years before. On the journey, Felix briefly and somewhat obviously outlines who the others are for Eva’s and the audience’s benefit.
The friends include good-looking Casanova type Hugo (model Andres Velencoso, making his debut) and his partner, insecure Cova (Blanca Romero); Felix’s former lover, Maribel (Maribel Verdu), now with troubled Rafa (Antonio Garrido); madcap artist Sergio (Miquel Fernandez); and good-hearted Sara (Carmen Ruiz). Significantly absent is Angel (Eugenio Mira), known by nickname as “the Prophet,” but whom nobody wants to discuss, to Eva’s irritation.
Old tensions quickly rise to the surface, but are soon forgotten when, following a big whooshing noise and some activity in the night sky, the electricity fails. Neither cars nor cell phones work, and overnight, Rafa inexplicably disappears. Heading to the nearest house the next day, the friends find it suddenly abandoned. As they continue through a ravine to the nearest village, a day’s walk away through stunning, rocky landscapes, they begin to realize they may be the only people left, some massive evil force is at work, and nobody has a clue what it is. High-profile writers Sergio G. Sanchez (“The Orphanage”) and Jorge Guerricaechevarria (“Cell 211”) may know, although the results suggest they’ve simply overreached this time.
After an hour, the pic enters anything-goes territory, featuring striking situations and images that have been drained of apparent meaning. Especially evocative is a scene in which the characters wander speechless among airplane wreckage. As the stakes rise, the protags’ plight becoming increasingly surreal, as when they escape on bicycles from a pack of German Shepherds — a scene that starts out risibly and ends with the pic’s most quietly devastating moment.
While all the supernatural hijinks are apparently being used to explore isolation, unhappiness and the onset of middle age, among other themes, the problem is that the film can be shaped to suit practically any interpretation. The links between all this and the mysterious Angel are similarly implied but not connected. Daringly, or maybe just lazily, most of the expectations the script sets up remain unfulfilled, leaving auds to decide whether the results are thought-provoking or vacuous. Luckily, philosophical dialogues are kept short, though surely there should be a moratorium on the fact that the light that reaches the Earth is from stars long dead (reprised here by Sanchez from his script for “The Impossible”).
The cast is too large for truly individualized characters, and some of them are gone too soon anyway, but in general, the female thesps, especially Lago, give stronger, more nuanced performances than their male counterparts. The sounds of nature are evocatively brought to the fore, while the town and landscapes, shot in gorgeous colors by d.p. Jose David Montero, are sheer eye candy.