Final Days (Alone) first published by VODzilla.co
With zombie films, it is often the little differences that count. The fact that Johnny Martin’s Final Days (aka Alone, aka Pandemic) concerns a young man having to survive alone a global pandemic that reduces its victims to flesh-eaters might recall Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend (2007), loosely adapted from Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel of the same name which had also inspired George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and hence the seemingly never-ending cycle of modern zombie films. The fact that the young man is trapped in a multi-storey apartment building might further recall Dominique Rocher’s The Night Eats the World (2018). And the fact that the apartment is our isolated hero’s own rather than his ex’s, and that he eventually spots another survivor in the building opposite and tries in different ways to make contact with her, might recall Cho Il-hyung’s #Alive (2020).
This last is hardly a coincidence – for both Martin’s and Cho’s films were developed from the same screenplay by Matt Naylor, and were released in the same year (2020). Cho’s film came out first – in South Korean cinemas in June, 2020, just after lockdown ended, and then on Netflix globally in September, gaining it a lot of attention, while Martin’s did not get released in the US until mid-October – but their productions overlapped, and neither, despite all appearances, can really be said to be a remake of the other.
Which brings us to the little differences. A lot, indeed most, of the plot beats from #Alive are also present and correct in Final Days – yet when Naylor adapted his own script with Cho for the Korean film, they merged it with the story of Kondo Tatsumi from Max Brooks’ novel World War Z (2006), making the protagonist (played by Yoo Ah-in) a gamer nerd. In Martin’s film, however, Aidan (Tyler Poser) is a tattooed surfer, and certainly no incel (early on we see him asleep in bed by his girlfriend, while on his vlog he states, “I’ve never been alone a day in my entire life”). Aidan’s long ordeal inside – and occasionally outside – the apartment also tracks his loneliness and despair (the film opens in medias res on Day 42 of the outbreak, with Aidan about to hang himself), and eventually his emerging hope for reconnection to life through Eva (Summer Spiro), who is so close and yet so far away. We just know that if these two characters manage to get together, there is the chance of a new world and a new start for them both, inscribed in their very names (which after all are not so very different from Adam and Eve).
There are two big differences here. One is the ending, eschewing the implausibly perfect timing of #Alive‘s rooftop climax for something more literally edgy and precarious that calls back to the opening scene where life also hung in the balance (but was also chosen over death). The second is the presentation and behaviour of the infected themselves. “Observation will tell you that rage and shame are both at work in a very big way,” says a pundit on television (before the power cuts off for good) – and these zombies, though certainly driven by a furious desire to devour living flesh, are also, like the infected in David Freyne’s The Cured (2017), at some basic level aware of the horrors that they are committing, and themselves horrified by them. These zombies are fast on their feet, and verbal – although like the ‘conversationalists’ in Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool (2008), they tend to repeat the same phrases over and over. These phrases – ranging from “Help me” to “I’m ok” to “Stay away!” to “Please stop” to “You’re crazy!” to “Kill me” to just plain anguished screaming – are by far the most unnerving aspect of Final Days, serving as the last self-knowing wails of the subconscious for people who are otherwise braindead victims of their own appalling appetites. There is also a wonderfully haunted/haunting cameo from Donald Sutherland (in dressing gown and pyjamas) as a survivor who has created his own awful arrangement to keep his old love alive. It seems that everyone here, infected or otherwise, must live with what they have done – but young lovers at least may still have a future together ahead of them.
At the beginning of the outbreak in Final Days, the emergency news service warns: “The best way to survive, to avoid infection, to avoid being a part of spreading infection, is to completely avoid contact. Find a place to hide and stay there. Hopefully it won’t have to be for too long.” As we go through the weeks and months of social distancing necessitated by Coronavirus, Martin’s film dramatises the damage that isolation itself can do to a person. Sometimes a little companionship can provide a reason to live – and make all the difference.
strap: Johnny Martin’s locked-in apocalypse lets a beleaguered man witness the unfolding of a zombie-like pandemic from his room with a view
© Anton Bitel