Sunday 29 December 2013

Sunset Day (2012)

Director: J A Duran
Stars: Ramon Novell, Jordi Llordella, José MarÍa Blanco, Laura Motos, Robetra Pasquinucci, Roser Boladeras and Ariadna Minguell
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
I wanted to like Sunset Day more than I found I could. I love the concepts in play and the ramifications that spring from them, but it felt to me like they weren't explored as well as they could be, in favour of a safer and lesser approach. The key idea is similar to the old time travel trope where people go back to a critical point in time to change that one seemingly insignificant event that will alter the course of history and prevent a particular future. You know it from The Terminator and Twelve Monkeys. Well, this is the same thing in reverse: a shadowy organisation known as the Corp has a mysterious ability to see far enough into the future to identify when the apocalypse is going to happen, here codenamed Sunset Day. They send an agent to make that insignificant change and deny that potential future its chance to unfold. Great, you might think. Well, insignificant changes may not feel insignificant; would you crash a train, killing 236 people, if you knew it would delay the end of the world for only 18 days?

That's what our hero does at the start of this film, explained through the deep and resonant narration of David Seys. What's more, it's the 36th time he's saved the world. In a nice touch, the apocalypse is a constant foe to the Corp. They can't just save the world and be done with it; they have to keep doing it, time after time. There are so many ramifications to this great idea that a whole feature could easily be dedicated to exploring them. Surely trust would be a major concern. How could each agent sent on such a mission be sure, absolutely sure, that they were doing the right thing? Just one shred of doubt would be enough to cause psychological torture. Surely the knowledge that they will be called upon to do the same thing again next week would be enough to spark that shred. The conspiracy angle is vast too; shadowy organisations inherently attract conspiracy theories anyway, but the Corp wouldn't just be a gift to the tin hat brigade, it would be a conspiracy to everyone who worked for it.
Yet those angles are mostly jettisoned in favour of a very personal story. We learn about our hero, how he was brought into the fold as a child and how the friend he lost in an explosion comes back into his life and changes his thinking. It's not a bad direction, but it's a far safer one than director Josep Antoni Duran and his co-writer, Ferran Grau, could, or even should, have taken with their script. I wanted so much more from their story, given that the film itself had so much more to back it up. We visit more than one time, as we see our hero, credited as Owl, as a child and an adult, but the look of the film is believably dated, not just through costumes and sets but by the use of a wonderful orientation video that takes the form of a cartoon. There are neat hints at history, like the Hindenberg disaster being a means to avoid Sunset Day. The CGI is too crisp and artificial but it's suitably spectacular and it's ably backed up by Roger Costa's excellent score. Technically, this is mostly an accomplished piece.

The acting is also solid, even from the child actors like Ramon Novell and Laura Motos, who play the young Owl and his unnamed friend at the orphanage who he believes he loses. They're only tasked to act physically, as the fifteen minute running time is entirely devoid of dialogue, possibly because the piece unfolds well as an almost silent film with narration and possibly to aid international distribution. This is a Spanish film, but just as silent movies could easily swap out intertitles for each market, this could easily swap out its narration and a fewother details and reach a whole new country. Sunset Day also comes in a Spanish language version and it wouldn't surprise me to see other languages follow. I wouldn't mind seeing that original version to see if anything was done differently, but I doubt it. What I really want to see is a longer, tighter, more complex, story that attempts a lot more than this one and covers a lot more background. Sunset Day gives us a fascinating world; I'd like to explore it.

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