At a brisk fifty minutes and with what seems to be a budget smaller than the amount I spend on coffee every month, Friend of the World feels like a student or arthouse project.
Filmed in black and white and shot more like a stageplay than a conventional movie, writer/producer/director Brian Patrick Butler has created something both striking and likely to divide audiences. Billed as a black comedy, it’s one where you’re either going to enjoy the humour or you’re not. You’re either on board for the moments the film slides straight into surrealism or you’re going to be turned off by them. So what is Friend of the World actually about? That’s a harder question to answer than you might think.
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Touching on themes of genetic engineering, world war, propaganda, paranoia and zombies, it tells the story of our two main characters – film student Diane (Alexandra Slade – We All Die Alone, Luminous Flux), and General Gore (Nick Young – Probe, The Vagrant).
In the aftermath of some nebulously defined war/genetic-engineering catastrophe, Diane crosses paths with the eccentric Gore and the two of them set out to try and find someplace more secure where there might just be help, sanctuary and maybe even a movie screen. Their attempts to find safety are made more difficult by hallucinations, strange characters and zombie-like individuals that bear more resemblance to the creature from Carpenter’s The Thing than anything that shambled out of a Romero movie.
Comparisons can be made to both Carpenter‘s seminal alien horror as well as Romero‘s classic Night of the Living Dead. There’s even shades of Kubrick, with Gore being strongly reminiscent of Dr Strangelove‘s General Ripper and his strange obsession with people’s fluids, although Gore chews far more scenery than Ripper ever did, wild-eyed and larger than life, a big man with a big voice, big gut and big ideals.
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The script for this film is… disjointed, to say the least, with more than one moment that’s likely to lead to a lot of head-scratching, and an ending that falls on the wrong side of ambiguous. The characters also don’t really talk to each other so much as at one another. While it’s fine to have characters with wildly different personalities and motives, these two never really engage with each other in anything but the most superficial way. They spend a lot of time pontificating about their particular philosophies and sneering in disdain at each other.
Gore steals every scene he’s in through sheer force of will and personality. Two parts General Ripper to two parts Jack Torrance, his mania intensified by cinematography that focuses on characters faces, the background often little more than a blur or entirely black, giving the audience no choice but to drink in every wrinkle, pore and bead of sweat on Gore’s face.
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Ultimately, though, this is a story likely to leave plenty of viewers wondering what on Earth they’ve just watched, or quite what the point of it was… and I’m okay with that. This film was an experience, a strange little head-trip that I’m glad to have taken. Fans of the off-beat, the weird, and the not-quite-mainstream will likely find plenty to enjoy in this strange, starkly-shot trip through the bunkers and cellars of a ruined world.
Friend of the World is available to watch now on various Digital platforms.