4:44 Last Day on Earth / Abel Ferrara / 2012 /

Active Ingredients: Emotional premise; Use of technology; Cinematic montages
Side Effects: Histrionics; Politics; Identifying a cause

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and the couple at the center of 4:44 Last Day on Earth feel anything but fine. Due to humans’ disrespect of the ozone layer (“Al Gore was right,” a news reporter says), mankind has but a few hours left on the planet. How would you spend your remaining time, the film asks? Two artists living on the lower East Side of Manhattan simply want to spend it together, making love, making art and coming to terms with death. Along the way, however, heated Skype calls with family and friends and encounters with the city around them lower their morale and Sisco’s (Willem Defoe) dark past threatens to keep them apart.

The strength of Abel Ferrara’s low budget, largely one-set piece of speculative fiction is the raw emotional power of its concept. Though histrionics occasionally get in the way of identifying with the characters, Ferrara charts a convincing evolution of their acceptance of the end of days and asks us to reflect on what’s important enough in our own lives to dedicate our last hours. Most of the film employs a DIY aesthetic with real locations and technology like computers and iPads playing a prominent role, however Ferrara embraces the opportunity to indulge in a few striking, cinematic montages of overlapping images, slow fades and found footage, including during the powerful finale. The film’s scant 80 minutes are also packed with philosophical thought that crescendos throughout. Though these flourishes are not fully integrated into the film (they seems more like widow dressing), they, along with the film’s charged scenario, provide enough to ponder over to make the film impactful.