At the start of 2020’s Friend of the World, we know that something bad has happened to the world but we don’t know what. An aspiring filmmaker named Diane (Alexandra Slade) wakes up in what appears to be a room in an underground bunker. Dead bodies surround her. When one turns out to be not quite dead, Diane shoots him in the head. Is it a mercy killing or is it an act of self-defense?
As we soon learn, Diane is not alone in the bunker. There’s a man named Gore (Nick Young), who appears to be some sort of military office and who, on occasion, even sound like he could be a direct descendant of Jack D. Ripper, the paranoid general played by Sterling Hayden in Dr. Strangelove. When we first see Gore, he’s standing directly over Diane, speaking as he shaves. Shaving cream falls from his face, down on Diane. Gore never apologizes, not for that or anything else. And while it quickly become clear that the world is no longer place where apologies and rudeness are anyone’s number one concern, it’s hard not to suspect that Gore probably wasn’t the apologizing type even before the world ended.
Gore leads Diane through the bunker, explaining how and why the world has ended and speaking rather ominously about how it’s going to fall to the survivors to repopulate the world. While Diane worries about the fate of her girlfriend, Gore smokes cigars and randomly fires guns. When they speak to each other, it’s often in somewhat bizarre cadences and phrases, the type that leave us to wonder if they’ve really just met or if we’re watching some sort of ritual develop.
We also discover that the two of them are not alone in the bunker. Others make brief appearances, as the situation grows more claustrophobic and more bizarre. One man bursts out of another, in a scene that will bring to mind the infamous chest bursters from Alien. Another mysterious figure shows up to repair a chair while moving in a herky-jerky fashion that almost suggests he might be an puppet on a string. When a more familiar figure shows up, Diane is forced to not only realize how much the world has changed but also consider her new role within it.
Clocking in at a little under an hour, Friend of the World is a surreal look at the end of the world, one that mixes the body horror of David Cronenberg with the dark humor and circular conversations of Samuel Beckett with just a hint of Kubrickian satire. For all the horror elements that are found in the film (and for all of the memorably gruesome special effects), the ultimate horror of Friend of the World comes from the knowledge that, should you survive the apocalypse, you’ll still have little control over who survives with you.
Director Brian Patrick Butler emphasizes the claustrophobic conditions of the bunker, a version of Hell from which there really is no exit. The scenes in the bunker are shot in harsh black-and-white while Diane’s memories of her girlfriend and a few scenes shot above ground are filmed in almost garish color, a simple technique that pays off surprisingly well. Both Alexandra Slade and Nick Young do a good job of bringing their enigmatic characters to life, with Slade especially capturing Diane’s mix of confusion, fear, and anger. As well, Kathryn Scott makes a strong impression with limited screen time in the small but key role of Diane’s girlfriend.
Friend of the World provides an intriguing look at the end of the world.