Shot with a pragmatic eye, director Brian Patrick Butler crafts a feature packed with big ideas and intimate moments that far outshine a clearly minimal budget. At times it can feel like an ambitious student film, with performances to match, but the heady mix of David Lynch, John Waters, David Cronenberg, the trippier end of Roger Corman’s 1960s output, and even a little bit of Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man make Friend of the World a memorable trip into unfamiliar territory.
The film finds filmmaker Diane Keaton — yes, it’s addressed — waking up in a labyrinthine bunker alone with the manic General Gore and swathes of the undead. As they advance through increasingly claustrophobic scenarios where zombies try to engulf them into their body-horror hive mind, Gore becomes more and more unhinged, while the film itself grows more feverish and delirious. Nick Young certainly commands as Gore, bristling with Bruce-Campbell-cum-George-C-Scott energy as he slides further into psychosis. His character and performance is so all-consuming that Alexandra Slade (Keaton) struggles to claw some of the screen back for herself.
Pacing never seems to be Butler’s primary concern, as the film winds idly through scenes and cramped rooms with little concern for the viewer, occasionally tossing in a wild hallucination or a face-melting zombie attack to keep you on your toes. The sinuous pace is exacerbated by the lack of any real score to speak of; music is used sparingly leaving little but deafening silence to cut through. This may be a product of the budget but Butler’s cunning turns this into a feature rather than a bug.
Working best when it explores the difference in attitudes between its two leads, Friend of the World is a post-apocalyptic story told in deep contrast, not only because of its black-and-white construction, but also themes of corruption versus purity, shadow versus light, and lucidity versus insanity. It is daring, interesting and resolutely not for everyone; there is no pandering here, no final act explanatory exposition, just bold ideas and mania. There are far worse ways to spend 50 minutes.
Michael C. Burgess
Brian Patrick Butler
Brian Patrick Butler