The world's going to end in six hours. If you're not one of those trying to rescue the masses a la Bruce Willis in "Armageddon" or Robert Duvall in "Deep Impact," what do you do? If you're simply a human being resigned to the fact that life as we know it will stop at the stroke of midnight, how would you spend your last few moments? Doing what, and with whom?
That's the proposition of director/writer/co-star Don McKellar's otherworldly "Last Night." With a plaintive air of matter-of-fact plausibility, the film opens with events already in motion. The heroes are hopefully out there somewhere. This movie focuses on the rest of the world -- a woman named Sandra (Sandra Oh) trying to shop for items for her last night with her husband; a man named Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) attempting to fulfill all of his sexual fantasies; an employee named Duncan (David Cronenberg) assuring his customers that the gas will be up and running until the end; and a family spending one last meal together.
Overt signs of the end are presented mostly as peripheral, surreal visuals. A mad jogger runs through various scenes counting down the time remaining. Looters roam the streets overturning cars, stealing merchandise and committing random acts of violence. A young man passes out tickets to his first and final music concert.
For the most part, the central characters remain calm, doing their best to stick to their plans of action. Patrick (McKellar), after having dinner with his family and sister Jennifer (Sarah Polley), hopes to spend the last night by himself. His parents try to get him to stay, but to no avail. His sibling and her husband are scheduled to attend a Times Square-style, end-of-the-world bash. Sandra, out on the town seeking a vintage ale, wants to make it home in time to spend a perfect evening with her spouse.
Throughout the course of the film, the characters' paths intersect, diverge and connect in engaging fashion. McKellar leaves the special effects to the big-budget studio films and concentrates on the relationships between characters. Each of his players has something to say, including the guy who wants to bed his former teacher. Although many audience members will have imagined the scenarios McKellar presents, both the images and the characters' behavior come across as eerily puzzling and oddly touching.
This Canadian production, cast with many of the director's personal friends, maintains a somber, independent sensibility that will be familiar to those who've seen the work of fellow natives Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg. Here, the tone is perfect for the storyline and the performances. Oh and Rennie are especially outstanding in their roles, for which they both won Genie Awards (Canada's equivalent of the Oscar).
Ultimately, the film captures a very personal, intimate portrait of what real people might do if the world were to find itself in dire straits. It's an accomplished first film from McKellar which features moments of despair and cruelty alongside others of grace and hope. Unlike the usual run of shallow, technology-driven disaster movies, this movie highlights the best special effect of all: the human one.
*MPPA rating: R, for sexuality, language and brief violence.
David Cronenberg: Duncan
Tracy Wright: Donna
Genevieve Bujold: Mrs. Carlton
Roberta Maxwell: Mrs. Wheeler
Robin Gammel: Mr. Wheeler
Trent McMullen: Alex Karen Glave: Lily
Jackie Burroughs: Jogger
Don McKellar: Patrick Wheeler
Sandra Oh: Sandra
Sarah Polley: Jennifer Wheeler
Callum Keith Rennie: Craig Zwiller
A Lions Gate presentation. Director Don McKellar. Writer Don McKellar. Producers Niv Fichman and Daniel Iron. Music Alexina Louie and Alex Pauk. Cinematographer Douglas Koch. Editor Reginald Harkema. Production Designer John Dondertman. Costume Designer Lea Carlson. Running time 1 hour, 33 minutes.