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Beyond the Carnage: Alternate Apocalypse Movies

When it comes to apocalyptic fare, for every 50 films like Armageddon and Resident Evil, for every meteor and viral outbreak, for every heroic act and wandering last man on Earth we get something unique – something you might not even initially associate with the popular (usually FX-heavy) Hollywood offerings. 

The end of days gets a romantic twist in this Friday’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the Word starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, about two folks who find love at the most unfortunate of junctures: weeks before an asteroid slams into Terra Firma. So with that, we’re going to run through some past (successful) ways the apocalypse has been approached that doesn’t conform to the norm.

When we think the end of the world, we think the end of mankind – it’s synonymous. Upon hearing an alien race is about to nuke the planet, nobody cries out “oh, god it’s curtains for the platypus!” Humans are inherently self-preserving and always think number one (as a species) when the shit hits the fan. 

So let me pose a question and be sure to answer quickly (and truthfully) in your mind: do you consider Antz to be an apocalypse film? Of course not, but let’s consider the following: this colony of arthropods exists as an intricate society, an isolated universe that has no bearing on the global ant population. So at the climax, when the “lake” floods into the ant hill, threatening to kill all its inhabitants and wipe that subterranean universe from history, how can this not be viewed as an apocalyptic event?

Similarly, we can draw parallels from the eradication of a specific race to that doomsday. Take Apocalypto for instance. Even though the name says it all off the start, the arrival of the Spanish at the end marks the beginning of the end for the Mayans. Toss in prophecy, gods and the general tone and it very much feels like a film of the apocalyptic variety. 

We also sometimes get films that despite being traditional in their setup go about things in very different ways. Earlier this year, The Cabin in the Woods bludgeoned us with our own conventions and twisted our conception of how the end of mankind should be handled. Also, zombie films (though a full genre on their own) are a definite subset of the post-apocalypse figurehead and recently have changed things up to keep things fresh, be it through aesthetics of the “creatures,” or how they came to be, etc. 


2008’s Pontypool provides one of the most fascinating twists on how those pesky flesh-eaters could be approached. Instead of the zombie virus being transmitted through blood or bites, it is certain words in the human language that triggers something deep within. It can be frustratingly odd at times, but it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before. 

Shifting gears from the undead to the inhuman, aliens are a favorite harbinger of death for us earthlings, but that in no way means it has to be all fire and brimstone. The low-budget Monsters had the ETs landing on Earth and ravaging South America and Mexico before being halted and quarantined by a mammoth wall and military action. This would of course be called a cataclysmic event the likes of which the Earth has never seen, but just because every continent hasn’t been decimated doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit into the genre – the apocalypse and mankind can live in harmony. 

There is also the anti-apocalypse film as can be seen in District 9. All the pieces were in place for South Africa to be invaded in some sort of Battle: L.A.-style showdown, but as it turned out the aliens were starved and barely alive when they arrived. The presence of aliens immediately calls to mind films like Independence Day, but they are entirely different beasts. 

 

Speaking of different beasts, the most fascinating type of “apocalypse” film in my opinion is that of the mind-bending variety, the ones that ask a lot from the viewer and pay off in turn. Are the horrific events unfolding onscreen the truth, or hallucinations from the perspective of one troubled individual?

The granddaddy of all these has to be Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which a foreign race of “pods” slowly duplicates and replaces the inhabitants of a rural California town. The iconic closing sequence, which finds Kevin McCarthy’s Miles Bennell screaming wildly on a freeway “They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next!”, it was only when the studio sought to tack on a “traditional” Hollywood Hending did the mystery and question of Bennell’s sanity evaporate. Up until then it was one of the first instances of an alien invasion potentially being contained to the mind of a single character. 

2011 saw three more great additions to this approach: the Michael Shannon-starrer Take Shelter, the stylish apocalyptic fantasy Bellflower  and the brazen erotic sci-fi comedy Kaboom! I would say Take Shelter is the purest example of this approach as visions of an impending super-storm plague the dreams of a single man, and even he has difficulty believing his tactile visions. Even at the climax, we only seem to be left with more questions.


Kaboom!, on the other hand, tosses in nearly ever genre you could think off, meshes it with a coming of age structure and the strange dreams of the lead including ominous pursuers in animal masks, a mysterious cult and the destruction of planet Earth. Bellflower arguably goes even further off the deep end into full-on mind**** territory with any number of trippy dreamlike fantasies colliding with “true” occurrences. If this type of apocalyptic flick interests you, I would recommend a watch before I spoil any of the many unique turns these offers choose to make. 

I leave you with one final way to approach Armageddon: comedy! Horror comedies have been and still are very popular in the proper circles, with zombie spoofs like Shaun of the Dead and any member of the “Scary Movie” franchise poking fun at the previous year’s easiest targets. But it would be Mike Judge’s Idiocracy starring Luke Wilson as the last smart man on Earth that manages successfully to set a rather broad comedy on a devastated Earth. 

The best part of all this is with our very own doomsday coming on Dec. 21, we’ll have the pleasure of seeing first hand if the real cataclysm matches any of these less flashy instances of our extinction (Personally, I’m hoping for the erotic, sci-fi angle).

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