Sigh… another found footage horror effort. Well, it’s not technically “found footage” — it’s more of a first-person and security-camera-footage situation — but it all falls under the “found footage” umbrella, and “found footage” is one of those “been there, done that” styles, right?
Here’s the lowdown:
Lesbian couple Carly (Lyndsey Lantz) and Rina (Andrea Nelson) are working through a rough patch. Carly’s a med-school dropout and Rina’s an out-of-work attorney. They’re living in less than ideal circumstances, in a less than perfect apartment complex. As they deal with their own problems, and the estrangement these things are apparently causing, there’s also the added issue of a sudden zombie outbreak, and the crisis is literally pounding on their studio apartment doors. Will this terrible tragedy bring them closer together, and will it do that in time?
I’ll get to the nitty-gritty of the film’s many problems… but first, let me address some of the film’s better points:
While I truly hated the fact that we get wobbly, first-person camerawork interspersed with static security-camera footage from various spots around the apartment complex, I was impressed with the film’s editing. I’m assuming the filmmakers used multiple cameras, all at once, and then just edited the hell out of all of that footage. If not, then the continuity between each setup was simply remarkable.
On the topic of the apartment complex: I am wholly impressed that they had the run of this place (at least that seemed to be the case), which is multi-leveled and sprawling, with parking lots and gates and landscaping. If the filmmakers indeed scored this entire location, I raise my hands in praise, because this is one helluva get. However (and this is a big however), the story simply doesn’t live up to the potential of such an impressive location.
The film is a very short 74 minutes, but even that time frame felt like it was a difficult task to fill up. We get some backstory for of Carly and Rina, but it never grabs you. Lesbians in love, hitting troubled waters and zombie gut-crunching brings them together.
We get hints of other problems (Rina’s possible bulimia and estrangement from Carly’s father), but I was never fully engaged with these two characters. If this is your central focus — making the zombie outbreak almost incidental — then the audience needs more of a connection with these characters.
That’s not the fault of the two actresses — while they certainly don’t hit every single mark, they both have reasonably good acting moments throughout. Notably, the proposal scene is well done, with both actresses emoting beautifully; I could tell this was a good moment because I was able to (momentarily) set aside my many reservations toward the film as a whole.
Lantz also has a lovely solo moment on camera, doing her best spin on Heather Donahue’s “snot confessional” from The Blair Witch Project. She produces some effective and impressive waterworks, and again — for a moment — I liked these characters. Also worth noting are indie horror icons Maria Olsen and Bill Oberst, Jr. Olsen plays a creepy, rat-eating neighbor, and Oberst lends his voice to a doctor character, warning folks over the radio to avoid the hospital. But other than these few call-outs of legit goodness, the rest of the puzzle pieces fail to snap into place.
Look, if you’re going to continue to make films in the “found footage” subgenre, then you’ve got to come up with something to justify the “let’s carry the camera at every single moment, continuing to film, even when our lives are in mortal danger” premise. In the case of The Blair Witch Project, perhaps because it was so novel at the time, audiences could set aside some of the logic problems as Heather and company continued to film, even in the most dire of situations. I mean, we didn’t really know better at that point… right?
But after over 20 years of this bit, I can no longer forgive a flimsy excuse for the characters to do this. Yes, the writers here set up the fact that Carly has recently taken a gig as a videographer, and the excuse she gives for filming (early on in the story), is that she’s “practicing” her technique. I’ll buy that… but when the you-know-what hits the fan, having Carly make a conscious decision to pick up the camera after it’s fallen from her grasp, as she handles a zombie situation… no.
That’s one long-winded complaint, but it needs to be said… repeatedly, it would seem.
My other concern is the lack of attention to detail. If this is indeed the “End Times” — and according to some radio broadcasts and information from fellow apartment dweller Wyatt (Joshua Keller Katz), things on the outside have truly gone to pot — then the camera shots we get of the city lights and buildings and sky beyond the complex should be filled with the usual (and frankly, expected) chaos of sirens and helicopters, and smoke billowing from exploding buildings. Every time we see these areas (including an empty street at the complex entrance), as the security cameras switch back and forth, it all looks pretty chill to me. Even in the parking lot, all of the cars are there, present and accounted for and in perfectly nice, clean little rows.
I understand that budget constraints won’t allow every filmmaker to take advantage of end-of-the-world visuals like, let’s say, World War Z — but to complete the picture, you gotta have something. If such things are not in the financial cards, then find a way to explain this away, or simply shoot around it.
By Day’s End isn’t a total loss — it has some good points, but these moments of good (never great, mind you) simply cannot overcome the film’s overwhelming negatives. I believe that had the film been shot in a more traditional manner, any technical shortcomings would have been minimized and the central relationship between Carly and Rina could have potentially flourished.
By Day’s End is scheduled for release on VOD and on DVD on Tuesday, March 17, via Breaking Glass Pictures.