Doomsdays (Not Rated, 91 min.)
Director: Eddie Mullins
Writer: Eddie Mullins
Starring: Justin Rice, Leo Fitzpatrick, Brian Charles Johnson, Laura Campbell
B

Though its protagonists would have us believe it starts at the end, apocalyptic comedy Doomsdays begins in the middle.

At the outset, director Eddie Mullins’ camera finds two men who have already mastered an odd method of fringe living. Mullins drops the viewer right into the men’s day-to-day routine of roaming around the secluded wilds of upstate New York, wriggling their way into strange houses, and taking what they can. We don’t know who these men are, or why they’re living this way. But we see them leading funny little lives, their flailing attempts to jump into open windows just pathetic enough to be humorous.

However, their charming silent-comedy antics can’t sustain an entire film, so they inevitably accept a new member into their party, young Jaidon (Brian Charles Johnson). As he gets the two terse men talking, we learn that they’re preparing for an impending breakdown of civilized society. Quiet, serious Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick) sincerely believes that an impending “peak oil” point will launch the world as we know it into an apocalyptic free-for-all, while scruffy trust-funded slacker Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) sees it as a preferable alternative to work and polite company.

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The emotional detachment of their nomadic lifestyle suits Dirty Fred well; it provides him with plenty of outlets to indulge his most unrepentantly dickish impulses (he takes great joy in smashing strangers’ glassware) and precludes him from developing any sort of meaningful relationship with another human being; he and Bruho never seem like friends, only partners in a bizarre and opportunistic enterprise. Dirty Fred lies as frequently as he does remorselessly, and shows a pathologically inconsiderate streak. But the totality with which he avoids true connection as well as the steady intake of brown liquor he keeps up throughout the film both hint at a deeper hurt behind the bookish glasses and highfalutin vocabulary.

Jaidon’s arrival slightly softens Bruho and Dirty Fred, but another newcomer further complicates the unstable chemistry of the group. After a flirtation with a bit of earnest heat underneath it, Dirty Fred integrates restless local Reyna (Laura Campbell) and turns the trio into a quartet. Her presence catalyzes a lot of keenly observed character work, teasing out a tenderer side from Bruho and revealing the unanticipated depths to which Dirty Fred’s emotional inaccessibility runs. Though the film seems to tacitly reward Dirty Fred’s insufferable smugness with constant female attention#, Mullins builds characters generously and with knowing detail. The specific degree of shittiness of Jaidon’s sneakers speaks volumes about his background as a character, and a single hesitation in Bruho’s voice hints at untold insecurity.

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Mullins’ insightful eye for character ends up being his saving grace; if not for the film’s sound foundation of wit and empathy, it’d be crushed under the weight of its own twee-ness. Mullins unabashedly courts comparison to Wes Anderson through the film’s self-consciously clever stylistic flourishes. Some touches work better than others — the bric-a-brac fetish and spritely mandolin score both weigh down the picture’s wandering spirit — but Mullins’ elaborate composition and sure comic timing make up for a lot. He enjoys working in a wide shot, introducing one small element of motion to the frame, and giggling in silent bemusement as an absurd character scrambles through the image. Mullins has the sort of gift for pacing that can’t be taught or contrived through skillful editing, where he leaves silences up in the air for the perfect number of seconds before letting a pratfall land.

Doomsdays comes dangerously close to being another self-satisfied indie effort, but Mullins gets that an abiding patience for human nature and a prankish sense of levity drew attention to Wes Anderson’s early works and have kept him above the scads of imitators that followed. It’s an almost aggressively unambitious picture, watching guys do stuff and then closely observing the emotional baggage that surfaces along the winding path of this journey with no destination. For what is, in essence, a road movie, it’s refreshing in its complete lack of direction. Doomsdays starts in the middle and prepares for the big end, but Mullins’ wisest move is conceiving an ending that’s really a beginning. He makes a suggestion far more troubling than an inevitable oil shortage: maybe some people are doomed to keep doing the same thing until they’re wiped out, apocalyptically or otherwise.