There’s a lot that worries us today. Whether it be terrorism, the rising cost of living, disease or the scary advances in technology, the threat of a dystopian world has been explored in countless films and television programmes.
This is the jumping off point that director Denis Hennelly presents us in Goodbye World, where old friendships are tested, new relationships are formed and, yes indeedy, they do say goodbye to the world they once knew as everything around them kind of just falls apart.
One of the characters opens the film via voiceover, quoting writer and everyone’s favourite simple living enthusiast, Henry David Thoreau, and immediately you think that this film will promote naturalism and living “off the grid”. But that’s just one part of the film.
Starring Adrian Grenier, Scott Mescudi, Gaby Hoffman and Ben McKenzie, it’s an interesting film from the get-go, but falls just a little short of being truly remarkable.
We’re introduced to James (Grenier) and Lily (Kerry Bishé), a young married couple living off the land like their hero Thoreau, with their daughter Hannah. It’s James and Lily’s cabin in the woods that old college buddies Nick (McKenzie) and Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) escape to following a technological terrorist attack, when a single virus/text message, “Goodbye World” is sent and causes worldwide chaos. They’re later joined by ex-con Benji (Mark Webber) and his fresh-faced girlfriend Ariel, as well as good buddies Laura (Hoffman) and tech-savant Lev (Mescudi).
The world around them falls apart as technology disappears, and they must learn to live with their new reality. Basic commodities like food and medicine grow scarce, and who you were in your old life – and, in particular, who you were with, is no longer what has to define you. They fight each other and their neighbouring households, and they quickly realise that old power positions no longer mean anything. How do you cope in this brave new world? Do you maintain what you have, or do you start from scratch? Can you be a revolutionary?
It’s a very interesting film, with very thought-provoking themes, but, as mentioned earlier, it just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Grenier and Bishé as hippie-chic couple James and Lily are kind of, on the surface, whom we all want to be – dependent on nobody, self-sufficient, living close to nature. On the contrast, the other couple, Nick (McKenzie) and Becky (Dhavernas) are the couple we all know. They’re the safe, secure, desk job type folk, not as carefree and very set in their ways (or so we think). All four actors here play their parts well because we can identify with their characters enough to care about them. Grenier does, somehow, still come off as a Good Guy – always the untouchable Vinnie Chase a la Entourage, not as gritty as McKenzie.
In contrast, though, are Lev (Mescudi), Laura (Hoffman) and Benji (Webber). Benji takes advantage of his new world situation easily, and it makes you wonder if you would do the same. Mescudi as tech genius Lev is interesting, if only because he is the only guy in the film that doesn’t look like he fell out of a Kinfolk magazine spread. It’s nice to see Mescudi branch out in other performing avenues, but you do wonder if he’s caught between wanting to be an actor and wanting to remain Kid Cudi. Hoffman as Laura is the standout in this film, and she does her best with the material she has.
The storyline is generally compelling, and why wouldn’t it be – it’s about the world as we know it coming to an end! However, the film is not necessarily about how the world comes to an end, but is more about the ways people adapt and change when their world is changing too. It’s like when you constantly tell whoever is left on the planet not watching the Walking Dead that “It’s not about the zombies!”
There are little elements of the film that are interesting: soldiers strong-arming the group to give up their home, a shot of a pile of tomatoes marked at $40 each (yikes!). But what’s kind of missing is the group’s overall reaction to their new circumstances – you get the feeling that they’re a little blasé about it? Sometimes you want to shake them up – what will you do now! The scene where they talk about what they will miss the most, and Lily claims she will miss Starbucks makes you sigh in despair. On the flipside, there is a funny (should it be seen as funny?) exchange between James and Lev (“Lev, buddy, are you a terrorist?” “ I don’t think so”. “Cool”) which reminds you not to take the film so seriously, and perhaps the target market might not mind that it’s not so deep and involved.
Overall, Goodbye World did win Best New Feature at the New Hampshire Film Festival, so there is value in its work. It just somehow felt a bit lacking in some parts, when there was so much promise for it to be truly wonderful. It could end up being one of those films you’ll pull out of your archives on a dark and stormy night, after too much alcohol, to show your friends and ponder your futures together.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 97 minutes
Goodbye World is available on DVD from 29th April 2015 through Eagle Entertainment