When the world ends, as it no doubt will someday, would it be better to survive and try to rebuild, or simply perish with the masses? Sci-fi horror indie Friend of the World, which at 50 minutes hovers between a short and a feature, examines this quandary through the lens of two very different characters.
After a global catastrophe—we’re not told the specifics, but it clearly involved all-out war, tied in with an outbreak that transformed the infected into zombie-like creatures—an aspiring filmmaker saddled with the unlikely moniker of Diane Keaton (Alexandra Slade) wakes up underground in a locked room full of corpses. Unsettling, to say the least, and things only get ickier when she’s rescued by Gore (Nick Young), a bombastic, foul-mouthed military type with the unhinged aura of someone who’s been alone too long, and the wild eyes of a man who might have had something to do with the spark that set off the apocalypse.
Diane doesn’t have much choice than to stick with him—he’s got food, water, weapons, and most importantly, a stash of the antidote that will protect them from the zombie-itis. However, he’s also quick to joke about eating human flesh, call Diane an “entitled little twat” and rib her about being a lesbian (“How are we going to repopulate?”), and fails to adequately warn her about the hallucinogenic effects of his miracle drug. They are, shall we say... intense, an experience made far worse by the dire and surreal circumstances she finds herself in.
Shot in black-and-white—with some effective use of clips from Diane’s film, showing her and her girlfriend in the dreamy, full-color hues of life before things fell apart—Friend of the World works to make the viewer feel as disoriented as Diane does, using some effective special effects to bring her nightmarish visions (or are they?) to life. While she grapples with horrors both real and imagined, she almost comes to admire the loathsome Gore’s certainty that the only thing to do is “move forward, take control, and evolve.”
The movie doesn’t stick to a conventional narrative; it’s divided into “chapters” that follow Diane and Gore on their hunt for other survivors. Its running time and artistic approach mean Friend of the World has something in common with the way Diane describes her own work: experimental and composed of “images, feelings, and emotions.” Those emotions tend toward despair and disgust, but there are flickers of humor along the way, as well as a slight story twist that explains the film’s title.
According to a statement from writer-director Butler, “The first draft was written in August 2016, amidst a U.S. presidential election even more controversial than usual, a growing fear of global war, and a burgeoning cynicism in America that was spreading like wildfire. All of this informed a script that was originally coming from a personal place of fear and isolation. Global drama aside, this project is intended first and foremost as entertainment: a presumably good character we can identify with up against an unstoppable monster who represents everything that scares and infuriates us. It is a tribute to and expansion of themes from the body horror sub-genre of scifi and horror.”
Friend of the World is streaming globally on Apple TV and iTunes.
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