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Film Review: ‘The Last Days’

This watchable but forgettable apocalyptic thriller reps a disappointing outing for Spanish helmers Alex and David Pastor

A high-profile Spanish project that’s uneven on every level except technique, the watchable but forgettable “The Last Days” finds helmers Alex and David Pastor failing to deliver on the promise of their 2009 English-language debut, “Carriers.” Also an apocalyptic thriller, but this time set in Spain and shot in Spanish, the pic is overblown where “Carriers” was subtle, and probes far less deeply into the human consequences of living in the bizarre world it depicts. That said, there’s still enough energy and gloss to ensure the pic will play well to undemanding auds, and it’s held its own against higher-profile American offerings in local release. Presales have been brisk.

Barcelona-based project manager Marc (Quim Gutierrez) is struggling to meet his work deadlines, a fact duly noted by Enrique (Jose Coronado, grizzled and charismatic), a hard-nosed troubleshooter brought into the company to clear out deadwood. The film transitions fairly smoothly between these scenes, set in the past, and those set in a far more unstable present following some vaguely specified cataclysm, possibly a volcanic eruption that may have spread noxious gases over the globe. In any event, Marc and his fellow employees (most of them sporting ragged beards) haven’t left the premises for three months, are about to run out of food, and have developed a severe case of agoraphobia.

Marc decides it’s time to look for his girlfriend, Julia (Marta Etura). After a bit of clumsy business with a stolen GPS, he and Enrique head into the subway, where they find a dangerous, lawless world has evolved. Here they encounter a series of dangers and obstacles that are entertaining enough in themselves, but the cumulative effect is nil, and the filmmakers often seem enthralled by the production’s technological possibilities at the expense of credibility.

When they finally reach Marc’s apartment, Julia has disappeared, but he learns that she’s pregnant — a device that should generate suspense, but instead feels like a last-ditch attempt to crank up the one-trick narrative.

At the ideas level, “The Last Days” lacks the coherence and focused intensity of “Children of Men,” in which the drama crucially fed into a searching critique of contemporary social trends. Here the commentary is diffuse at best: People spend too much time behind desks, are overly dependent on technology and have lost their feeling for the natural world. But this particular issue has already been troubling the West for about 200 years now, and it feels especially incongruous at a time when the unemployed masses would be only too happy to sit behind a desk all day.

Despite Daniel Aranyo’s too-busy, look-at-me lensing, the film boasts remarkable visuals: Production designer Baltasar Gallart and set decorator Nuria Muni successfully find a sharp-edged beauty in this abandoned, digitally ravaged but very recognizable Barcelona. What’s missing, though, is that palpable air of decay that would render the catastrophe truly convincing.

Coronado, one of Spain’s finest character actors, is incapable of delivering a less-than-intense perf, but he struggles here with a script that fails to pull together the various facets of his character: ruthless corporate boss, loving son and morally righteous savior. Much of the time, Gutierrez seems uncertain about how to play Marc, while the reliably radiant Etura scarcely needs all the soft focus lavished on her.

Sound is generally cranked up too high and music is omnipresent, although Fernando Velazquez’s score suddenly becomes achingly lovely during a startling, surprisingly moving final scene that goes some way toward redeeming what has come before.

The Last Days
Los ultimos dias
(Spain-France)

A Warner Bros. (in Spain) release of a Morena Films, Rebelion Terrestre, Antena 3 Films, Les Films Du Lendemain, production in association with TV3, La Sexta, Canal Plus Wild Bunch Films. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Mercedes Gamero, Alberto Marini, Pedro Uriol. Co-producers, Kristina Larsen, Vincent Maraval, Gael Nouaille.

Directed, written by Alex Pastor, David Pastor. Camera (color, widescreen), Daniel Aranyo; editor, Marti Roca; music, Fernando Velazquez; production designer, Baltasar Gallart; set decorator, Nuria Muni; costume designers, Olga Rodal, Laura Gasa; sound (Dolby Digital), Oriol Tarrago, Licio Marcos de Oliveira; re-recording mixers, David Calleja; visual effects, Ramon Cervera, Ramon Daza, Daniel de Madrid, Antonio J. Jimenez; stunt coordinator, Sergi Subira; associate producer, TV3, Oriol Sala-Patau; assistant director, Gerard Verdaguer; casting, Rosa Estevez. Reviewed at Yelmo Cines Ideal, Madrid, March 29, 2013. Running time: 102 MIN.

With: Quim Gutierrez, Jose Coronado, Marta Etura, Leticia Dolera, Ivan Massague, Pere Ventura
(Spanish dialogue, Catalan dialect)

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