Doug Aarniokoski’s The Day really hopes you haven’t read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and it really, really hopes you haven’t seen the John Hillicoat film version with Viggo Mortensen.
Not that the cinematic iteration of McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic drama was any great shakes, but it took the dying of the human race and made it a horrifying, eye-widening affair that felt fresh in its grotesque savagery. The Day tackles almost identical material—a busted, bombed-out future sparsely peopled by hard-edged vagabonds and resourceful cannibals—and manages to render the whole exercise dull, uneventful and overplayed. There’s more life in the scorched earth this diminished band of pretty young survivors walk upon than there is in the cliché-strewn script.
With the amazing dearth of material out there right now, it would be perfectly plausible for some sci-fi fans to have developed a kind of affection for post-apocalypse adventures. For me personally, there’s never been one as prescient, powerful or poignant as George Miller’s The Road Warrior. The Day doesn’t come close to evoking that kind of vivid landscape; the imagery and camera work are so nondescript and shadowy that it’s very hard to even discern that we are looking at a dying future world. The same is true of the writing, which assembles a nice cast in Shawn Ashmore, Dominic Monaghan, Cory Hardrict, Ashley Bell and Shannyn Sossamon but doesn’t give them anything other than one-dimensional types to work with. Monaghan’s character is hamstrung early and Sossamon can’t ever find bearing for hers. Ashley Bell, as a possible refugee from the cannibal camp, is the most interesting character and the token female warrior that leads the team when those mysterious flesh-eaters corner the heroes in an abandoned farmhouse.
The Day, produced by WWE studios, is an action thriller that has been cut down to the very basic keynotes of the genre. It’s terse, jagged and frequently confusing as it features one character or another wandering through dark spaces and ending up on the business end of some crude weapon. The meager story, which never satisfactorily explains the cataclysm or the motives of the villains, is built almost wholly from other sources. The most obvious is McCarthy, but there are hints of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Damnation Alley and in the young band of wayfaring but hopeful survivors, more than a touch of Justin Cronen’s The Passage, that featured telepathic vampires instead of these run-of-the-mill cannibals. Structurally, there’s thievery here from Assault on Precinct 13 and Night of the Living Dead, but by the time the escalating attack is underway, most viewers will have already lost interest.
I suppose there’s room for another take on the end of the world and the aftermath of civilization’s fall, but to create something worthwhile, filmmakers must expand the concept in new directions. The Day proves that the simple, barbaric pleasures of high-octane end of days flicks have become blaise. These days, it’s all whimper and no bang.
If this sort of grim, dreadful trinket is your thing, may I suggest to you the far superior Stakeland from Nick Damici and Jim Mickle. It has the bite and fright that The Day lacks.