Note: This review contains mild spoilers.
Blame it on the Mayans, maybe, but 2012 and 2013 have seen a host of films with apocalypse on the brain, from big budget action flicks to meta-comedies like “This Is The End,” to smaller, more realistic dramedies like “It’s A Disaster,” which made its premiere at last year’s L.A. Film Fest (we even wrote a guide on the 2013 apocalypse movies). Director Denis Henry Hennelly’s “Goodbye World” falls more in line with the latter, situating a group of seven college friends in a Northern California cabin in the wake of a cyber attack. While it has its funny moments, it’s definitely not a comedy, but it seeks to acknowledge the weird ways in which people react to times of crisis, especially amongst this particular group, with their complicated personal histories. Will they implode from their own internal strife or outside threats?
James (Adrian Grenier) and Lily (Kerry Bishé) have retreated from urban life, holing up with their four-year-old daughter Hannah (Mckenna Grace) in a stylishly appointed solar-powered cabin in NorCal. They aren’t “off the grid” per se, because they have wifi and phones and mid-century modern cabinetry and tasteful light fixtures (Lily’s hair and wardrobe is also suspiciously perfect). Friends of theirs, Nick (Ben McKenzie) and Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) are on their way to visit them for a weekend, steeling themselves over the awkwardness that might ensue, courtesy of a contentious business lawsuit between James and Nick.
Meanwhile, we see a montage of their other pals around the U.S.: Benji (Mark Webber) an activist recently released from prison for arson gives a talk at a college; Laura (Gaby Hoffmann) interviews for a job though her past is tainted by scandal; Lev (Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi) readies himself for a suicide attempt. Everyone at once receives multiple text messages reading “Goodbye World,” which shuts down cell service, happening in conjunction with a major power outage. As the media begins to report on the news, the masses react hysterically, rioting in the streets and devolving into anarchy. Benji, with his college fling Ariel (Remy Nozik) in tow, heads for the hills of James and Lily’s place, and informs them as to what is going on. Laura somehow commandeers a small aircraft when her flight to SFO is diverted to Vegas, and finds a dehydrated Lev on the road as she hikes up to the cabin herself. Once they are all assembled, it’s time for the film to beg the question: what happens when a survivalist, a Libertarian Constitutionalist, a capitalist, an anarchist activist, a democratist, and two hackers try to survive the apocalypse in one house?
The strength of “Goodbye World” is that it understands the foibles of these characters and lets them be as flawed as they are while they are also trying to survive not just the apocalypse but each other. However, some of the characters, as written, vary wildly in their characterization. Lily suffers from far too many character traits –it’s almost laughable: she’s a gorgeous mother who is also a computer hacker going by the handle Mr. E, used to be engaged to Nick, might have a bit of a substance abuse issue, and has a penchant for old-school rap. The rap thing is never explained and veers into offensive cultural appropriation territory, especially when she dons a backwards cap, fires up a ghetto blaster and declares she’s going to drop some knowledge about life in the ghetto. It’s completely random, unexplained and off-putting. However, actress Bishé embodies the character well, and Lily is allowed a great deal of personal growth over the course of story. One realizes that her affected kookiness is really just a defense mechanism for a troubled marriage and lack of satisfaction with her life. She’s still way too pretty to be a hacker though. Lev, on the other hand, suffers from extreme under-characterization, to the point that he comes off as a little Asperger’s spectrum-y, but maybe that’s the point. Really, it’s all the point because these people are human and some humans are annoying and weird and they get stoned and talk about ball hair in the hot tub. Even during the apocalypse.
James, ever the provider, and seemingly our hero, turns out to make some of the most fatal errors of the film because of his hubris and self-righteousness. As the internal drama heats up, so do the outside threats, in the form of a menacing pair of National Guardsman whom they turn away from their privileged enclave. The soldiers end up at a neighbor’s camp, and the leader, Damon (played chillingly by Linc Hand) starts to pressure them for their supplies, using sexual violence, assault and the fact that he’s got the biggest gun to boss everyone around, and blackmail James. He successfully pierces the bubble of this group, who can no longer remain removed from the situation at hand, despite their best efforts. Though Damon is a violent sociopath, he’s also a much needed reality check.
Who turns out to be the real hero and the bravest of the bunch is the scandal-embroiled Laura, who seems relieved to be able to leave her past life behind. Hoffmann is stunning and soulful in this role, her performance the glue that holds everything together, and by far the standout of the film. It’s clear she’s burdened by the weight of her past, but her commitment to her ideals about democracy is what saves the day at the end and what will drive their new little society forward. McKenzie is also excellent in his part as a heartbroken guy who’s found himself the perfect life on the outside but not the inside.
All in all, “Goodbye World” is an entertaining and realistic look at what could very well happen when we consider the end of the world. It won’t necessarily come via sinkholes or aliens, but from ourselves. And we are the only ones who can decide just how we are going to deal with it, which is the question that this film posits. But it’s also a question that we could stand to ask ourselves now, apocalypse or not. [B+]