[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]
Seeking a friend for the post-apocalypse? These certainly weren’t in this absurdist horror-comedy by first-time writer and director Brian Patrick Butler. Friend of the World stars Alexandra Slade and Nick Young as an unlikely duo forced to face the oddities that have consumed the world within the microcosm of a military bunker. It combines abstract visuals, body horror, and bizarre comedy within a lean runtime. It’s an outlandish film that works in large part thanks to its stageplay-like presentation, great dialogue, and excellent performances by its two leads, even if the experimental moments leave something to be desired.
Diane (Slade) wakes up in a locked room amid the aftermath of a massacre. After escaping through an elevator shaft, she comes across the unhinged General Gore (Young), who tells her that they’re living in the fallout of a world war following an ‘End of the World’ pact agreed upon by multiple governments. Without any other options, Diane sticks with Gore to travel through an underground bunker to get to the nearest base. Along the way, they discuss their worldviews and run across some peculiar zombie-like beings.
The film’s highlight is the dynamic between Diane and Gore. Diane is a young experimental filmmaker, and Gore is a war-hardened general with a macabre sense of humor and some experience making wartime propaganda. There’s an undercurrent of tension with not knowing whether Gore is just weathered and disillusioned from his life experiences or completely out of his mind, but it’s also where a lot of the best comedy derives. Gore’s personality is like a cross between the mad ravings of General Ripper (Sterling Hayden) from Dr. Strangelove (1964), and the laid-back vulgarity of Soldier Boy (Jensen Ackles) from The Boys. His tendency to say exactly what’s on his mind is a great foil to Diane’s reserved demeanor.
The film is presented like a two-person stage play in the likes of Waiting for Godot. There are large portions that revolve exclusively around the two leads talking to each other about their predicament and their perceptions of the world. The film has a framing device of five chapters, and the second is entirely devoted to the two of them establishing their personalities, and the situation they’re in. It takes place in Gore’s personal bunker, which consists only of a bed, some posters on the walls, a dresser, and a file cabinet. Its minimalist design feels reminiscent of the theatrical scenery of a play and a large portion of the chapter is captured in one continuous shot.
Friend of the World falls flat when it delves into abstract territory, primarily leading up to the final act. The dynamic between the two leads becomes a little muddled and by the time a conclusion is reached, it creates confusion for audiences as to how we are supposed to be feeling, especially when outside forces get introduced so late in the story. The film has its crazed unexplained early moments dealing with the mechanics of the monsters, but that felt more appropriate since we’re seeing the events from the perspective of Diane. She doesn’t understand what’s happening, and it fleshes out her relationship with Gore. Abstractions are supposed to leave things up to the interpretation of the viewer, but when the majority of the film is fairly straightforward, it makes the later unexplained moments feel more out of place, and in doing so, makes the ending less satisfying.
Friend of the World is a strange film that is at its best when it focuses on the dialogue and performances of the two leads. Its abstract moments are a distraction for audiences. However, it does have a fresh voice, making it a solid debut from Butler.
Friend of the World is now streaming on Tubi.