The peak oil apocalypse doesn’t have to be so serious

According to director Eddie Mullins the concept for Doomsdays began when he saw Chris Smith’s Collapse an incendiary — but largely sobering — doc about peak oil. It’s no joke: At the Toronto International Film Fest in 2009 the film was a breakout hit grimly exploring the apocalyptic truth that fossil fuel reserves and modern life will soon be extinct. As an inspiration for Mullins’ first feature film it’s weighty stuff. Accordingly even he was surprised when Doomsdays turned out as a comedy.

“As I was writing the script I thought it was going to be this fraught heavy picture” Mullins says on a pit stop at the Boston Underground Film Festival. “But as it turns out I don’t know how to do that. But I’m glad it ended up being comedic because otherwise it’d be a real drag. It’s fairly depressing material if taken straight. The only way to get it across was with humour.”

He’s right. The spectre of peak oil looms over Doomsdays . Namely its protagonists Dirty Fred (Justin Rice best known from indie rock act Bishop Allen) and Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick of Kids fame) believe that thanks to our reliance on petroleum all hope is lost. Accordingly they spend their lives as drifters breaking into remote Hudson Bay-area cottages squatting and living as recklessly as possible. Eventually they become a repository for outcasts: Jaidon (Brian Charles Johnson) a bullied college-aged kid and Reyna (Laura Campbell) one of Fred’s love interests joins in on the destruction.

The blatant nihilism on display is only skin-deep. Dirty Fred’s a womanizing alcoholic and Bruho smashes up gas-guzzlers for sport but it’s evident that they’re masking anxieties over well the oncoming doomsday. “It’s fantasy but there’s something fundamentally attractive about abandoning all worldly responsibilities in favour of living like a reprobate” adds Mullins. “Of course [their actions] end up impinging on the real world.”

Much of Doomsdays’ tension then comes from consistently defying expectations: Occasionally the duo’s escapist fantasies are interrupted by homeowners. While they operate with the lawlessness of zombie apocalypse survivors there’s a definite gravitas to their actions — especially when they’re confronted with death. Even the casting decisions are unexpected. Bruho for all his anger issues looks like a member of the Beastie Boys. The boozy Fred clad in a tie and pea coat resembles a garden-variety adjunct professor.

Those casting decisions it turns out were intentional. In fact Fred’s role was groomed intentionally for Rice who is Mullins’ real-world neighbour in Kingston N.Y. “Historically he’s played sensitive milquetoast characters so I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be a great subversion of your image to play Dirty Fred?’ He’s such a nice person and I thought it’d be nice if he played a total cocksucker.”

Much of Mullins’ attention to detail comes from the fact that in a previous life he was a film critic for Black Book . And it’s evident both in film and conversation that he’s a cinephile: In tone he suggest similarities between his picture and Two-Lane Blacktop the films of Bruce Robinson and Gérard Depardieu’s Going Places . As a director too he says he drew heavy influence from William Wyler and seminal Japanese auteur Kenji Mizoguchi.

“I looked at these filmmakers intensely. I’m not fond of doing direct quotations like Tarantino or Wes Anderson but I was borrowing — just in a broader sense” he says.

“The fact that I spent a decade in the trenches has informed the way I think about film from a formal perspective. There are two match cuts in the whole film. The idea [we had] was ‘Can we impose restraint but still create visual interest from shot to shot?’ The agenda was not to be a director of the cut but a director of the shot.”

It was undoubtedly a benefit for the actors and it shows onscreen: Their dialogue feels naturalistic to the point that Doomsdays almost comes across as improvised. It wasn’t but it speaks to the chemistry its characters had onscreen. “There was a sentiment between myself and the crew that they didn’t find [the film’s concept] far-fetched” he says. “In the end it becomes a film about family. Everyone’s nursing a wound and forming this impromptu family somehow alleviates [the pain]. They’re mostly united by the fact that they’re misfits.”