Pre-millennial jitters were very much in evidence in 1998, what with not one but two deadly asteroid blockbusters (Deep Impact and Armageddon) and the first big-screen outing for The X Files duo.
It’s fair to say Don McKellar’s low-budget indie about the end of the world didn’t make quite as much of a splash. Twelve years on, however, it emerges as a droll, quietly affecting reminder of the nervous uncertainty that gripped us all around the turn of the century.
The end is nigh, and in the Earth’s last six hours an assortment of characters prepare for the inevitable in a lawless, largely deserted Toronto. Having dutifully paid his family one last visit, architect Patrick (McKellar himself) heads home, determined to meet his maker alone.
His best-laid plans, though, are scuppered by Sandra (Sandra Oh), a recently married woman eager to get home herself so that she and her husband can make good on a suicide pact.
Setting out into the disconcertedly sunlit streets – the only perceivable clue as to what unspecified disaster is about to befall the globe – this reluctant couple find attempts to secure transport stymied at every turn.
Until, that is, they turn to Craig (Callum Keith Rennie), a pal of Patrick’s who wants to go out with a bang – literally – by indulging every sexual peccadillo, inclination and fetish he’s ever had.
Elsewhere, a diligent employee of the gas company (horror auteur David Cronenberg in a rare acting role) phones each one of its customers to thank them for their loyalty, while a mother sits with her daughter on an empty bus in the vain hope a driver will set it in motion...
Laconic and neutral to the point of abstraction, Last Night sidesteps costly effects and Hollywood hyperbole in favour of a coolly quizzical vision on impending apocalypse.
Having long come to terms with their imminent annihilation, McKellar’s protagonists revert back to their natural prickliness, selfishness and self-absorption in a way that is both gently amusing and somewhat tragic.
If this was an American title, they would probably find a way to sacrifice themselves for the greater good or show some latent heroism or nobility.
Torontoborn McKellar, though, has no time for such silliness, painting a portrait of humanity on the brink that is bleaker, funnier and more truthful than any pic made south of the border could ever hope to be.
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A Canadian curio whose eyecatching cast and off-kilter strangeness make it worth a look, slim extras notwithstanding.