A pair of vagabonds get a head start on postapocalyptic living in “Doomsdays,” a funny, precisely calibrated first feature from former critic Eddie Mullins. The film trails two itinerant friends as they break into house after house in the Catskills, looking for places to live and chill; they’re convinced that such criminal sojourns will become commonplace after the world runs out of oil. Mullins’ dry anarchic humor has a definite cult appeal, assuming that this accomplished indie finds the audience it deserves in its limited/VOD release.
Divided into calendar dates, the pic opens with a car pulling up to a house; the passengers soon discover that their home has been robbed. In a single take, the culprits, still there, escape, and one, Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick), manages to puncture a tire during the getaway. It turns out that this is a routine, of sorts. Bruho and his comrade, Dirty Fred (Justin Rice), have no homes of their own. Instead, they traverse the woods on foot, raiding houses — preferably scenic and well stocked — as if law and order were suspended.
The crew-cut, grunt-like Bruho has a wholehearted ideological commitment to this lifestyle. Reluctant to ride in cars, he smashes vehicles with a gusto that one of Harmony Korine’s trash humpers might envy. Fred, who has a rumpled-grad-student appearance, takes advantage of the opportunities that a checked-out existence affords for finding booze and getting laid. “If you’re on the Titanic, and you can see that there’s not enough room in the lifeboats for you,” he explains, “why not live it up at the bar?”
With the nearest authority 20 miles away, the two travel with relative ease — and even getting caught isn’t too big a deal. Part of the fun of the movie is seeing the casualness with which Fred, in particular, tosses off lies and allows the people he meets to augment them. (Apologizing to a pickup for Bruho’s gruffness: “He’s got post-traumatic stress.” “From Iraq?” “Sure.”) Apparently, people are more prone to accept the confusion of these encounters than to admit that they’ve been hoodwinked.
A teenager, Jaidon (Brian Charles Johnson), discovers the two men’s strategy and soon joins them, proving himself not just as a sidekick but as a valuable part of the team. (In one amusing shot, the duo observes from a distance as the kid makes various attempts to break into his first home, before finally taking the easiest, riskiest route.) The narrative also takes some dark turns, as when the group discovers a hanging corpse. There’s friction after Fred hooks up with Reyna (Laura Campbell), whose hospitality is not something Bruho is used to — and who is perhaps more open-minded to this sort of hell-raising than any of them initially suspects.
This kind of movie would be nothing without a terrific comic pairing, and Fitzpatrick and Rice make near-musicality of their mutual irritation. Johnson brings some edge to a role that might well have been another misfit-teen caricature, and Campbell is an appealing, forceful new presence.
But Mullins and d.p. Cal Robertson steal the show with their widescreen, deep-focus comic style; many of the best gags involve characters spying on one another or action that unfolds in multiple planes at once. The formalism calls to mind numerous Wes Anderson features, as does scoring by the band Bang & Yell (of which Mullins is a member) that sounds a bit too much like Mark Mothersbaugh. But notwithstanding that echo — and, according to the press notes, a list of influences as divergent as William Wyler, Jim Jarmusch and Hou Hsiao-hsien — “Doomsdays” is disarmingly original.