Most films in Hollywood are typical run of the mill stories that are easy to follow from beginning to end. However, once in a blue moon, you get a film that is surrealist and truly bizarre, be it in its imagery, themes or non-linear storytelling. Films like Eraserhead and Jacob’s Ladder come to mind when thinking of surrealist films and although the era for surrealist filmography seems to be at an end, 2020’s Friend of the World enters the scene. The film surrounds a young woman named Diane who wakes up in an underground bunker and meets a middle aged general who informs her of the world’s destruction. With a mysterious threat facing them, Diane has no choice but to follow the general, who appears to become more and more unhinged.
To say the film is surrealist would be accurate but also a massive understatement. It is like the filmmakers were on acid and LSD when watching other movies and this is the result. Because of this, the film is not easy to follow and naturally isn’t for everyone. But as a psychedelic and surrealist work, the film succeeds in keeping the audience engaged. Friend of the World contains much bodily and some gross-out horror that may make you think twice before eating something while watching the film. This is apparent with the practical makeup for the infected/zombies. I was pleasantly surprised to see how disturbingly realistic the makeup was whenever we see someone who’s infected, as not many films have this much attention to detail. Additionally, the film being shot in black and white allows it to delve deeper into its horror motif by accentuating the play on shadows, and further sells the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in an underground bunker.
To complement the exemplary visual effects, the performances from our leads are top notch. Alexandra Slade does a good job in her role being the straight man to the growing insanity of the film. Nick Young as General Gore is like if General Ripper from Dr. Strangelove was transplanted into the modern world and given drugs after watching Apocalypse Now. He is the opposite of our lead in every way and his unhinged monologues offer much insight into his declining mental state. Despite the film having a small cast, that doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing, as plenty of more recognized films have small casts. What matters most is how the cast is utilized, and Friend of the World utilizes its cast exceptionally.
The film was released in 2020, a year with COVID-19, and during an election year that was as tumultuous as the one four years prior. This helps the film in its relevance, especially with our main characters’ dynamic of being polar opposites to each other and Gore being an obvious conspiracy theorist. All of this helps make Friend of the World into an interesting experience and a solid film. With good acting, visuals, and direction this film makes a surrealist experience that can be enjoyed by fans of surrealist and psychedelic works.
Co-Written By: Michael Li