Review: Friend of the World

Written and directed by Brian Patrick Butler, after a catastrophic global war, a young filmmaker awakens in the carnage and seeks refuge in the only other survivor: an eccentric, ideologically opposed figure of the United States military. Together, they brave the toxic landscape in search of safety and answers. Starring: Nick Young, Alexandra Slade, Michael C. Burgess, Kathryn Schott, Kevin Smith and Luke Anthony Pensabene.

Having been made in a time where the most surreal experience some Americans could imagine was Donald Trump becoming president, it’s a fascinating coincidence that the topic and intentions of Butler’s film have only become more relevant in a pandemic. A metaphor in the form of an apocalyptic world to represent the state of the US, its politics and its divided citizens is incredibly apt. It’s admirable how the film tries to explore aspects of an apocalypse that can so easily relate to today’s world, the government’s often twisted representation of facts, propaganda directed at susceptible people and their thin justifications for violence or detrimental actions. It does have something new to add to the conversation, and there’s a particular relevance in the form of having two opposite personality types from different generations having to work together, the types of people who would be calling each other “boomer” and “snowflake” or “SJW” on social media. If in real life you forced a young, independent, politically minded person to work with the older generation of entrenched views and military background in an emergency situation, who knows what would happen but the film captures an interesting possible outcome.

While the inferences and metaphors that the film holds do come through, the story that its using to do so struggles with its progression, the choice to split the film into chapters was a nice addition but within those chapters there isn’t a tangible driving force to grasp onto. There’s the classic theme of survival as with any apocalypse film but the threat isn’t sufficient enough to add the right amount of tension or suspense to keep you gripped or invested in the characters’ fate. The introduction of its more horror themed element does have a lot to add, its throwbacks to filmmakers like Carpenter and Cronenberg are very clear and the special effects are a pleasing mix of practical and CGI, however they’re fairly minimal in the film as a whole. While that element does work well visually, it feels like more of a tangent from the film’s political metaphor, the two aspects aren’t blended enough to make them feel like part of the same story, they’re disconnected from one another. After they’re introduced it feels like the film goes a little off the rails and loses track of revealing the complexities of its story and never entirely gets back to it before the credits roll, feeling rather unsatisfying.

Butler shows some strong directorial style, particularly through his use of space given that a lot of the scenes take place in rather small sets. The acting is well done for the most part but when it has to steer into more emotional territory, it does struggle slightly. Making a film black and white is a choice that a lot of filmmakers have made, particularly in short film but it’s one that doesn’t always work and while you can see what Butler was going for, it doesn’t feel as though it has anything to add to the equation. There’s a sincere attempt to give the visual a richer, more dramatic hue but it seems as though colour could have been more impactful to capture the grit and grime of their situation, especially when looking at the few colour stills available they have an added energy and urgency to them.

Friend of the World has some really interesting ideas and you can see its intentions to tell a more character driven apocalyptic story pulling elements from a modern America. This will likely be a divisive film; it will work for some and not others because its style is very specific and perhaps ever so slightly outlandish. The story could have used a stronger driving force, as relevant and perceptive as its metaphor can be, it takes away from giving the film a clear, consistent progress and something to really sink your teeth into. What Butler has tried to do is a rather gargantuan task, there are a number of elements exposing talent in this debut feature and it’s great to see that he wasn’t afraid to aim extremely high but unfortunately it doesn’t quite all come together in the end.

Verdict: ✯✯

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