Focusing on a secluded group of survivors in a crisis is a very economical way to tell a big story. A chamber piece is a lot easier to shoot than the epic action version, but it’s also a valid, relatable way to explore a human story. Goodbye World joins the genre of group survival movies, of which I am very familiar and extremely picky, and it becomes one of my favorites and certainly one of the most intelligent.
Nick (Ben McKenzie) and Becky (Caroline Dhavarnas) are visiting James (Adrian Grenier) and Lilly (Kerry Bishe) at their organic farm to resolve some old business. While there, a computer virus destroys electricity, technology and society. The four former college friends are joined by other former classmates, disgraced political aide Lauren (Gaby Hoffman), suicidal hacker Lev (Kid Cudi), college professor Benji (Marc Weber) and his student hookup Ariel (Remy Nozik).
What’s special about Goodbye World is that the conflict doesn’t come out of cabin fever when this group is trapped on the farm. The characters were already destined for conflict, not because of their personalities, but because of their ideals. This is how intelligent people, maybe even intellectual people, react to crises from minor arguments to the end of the world. Their reactions include militance, diplomacy and of course denial.
The characters demonstrate their personalities through behavior, not exposition. The script by director Denis Hennelly and Sarah Adina Smith is careful with the political talk. There’s enough to show the characters know what they’re talking about but it stops just short of preaching. The introduction to each character is a strong exercise in concise character building. We kind of know everything there is to know about Benji by seeing him hook up with his student, and Lev’s interrupted suicide is pretty dramatic. Lauren’s disgrace isn’t fully revealed until later but seeing the scorn with which she is treated says more than the details of her scandal.
There are a lot of opposing forces here but it’s not every man for himself. The couples support each other. They just, as a unit, conflict with the other couples. That’s not to say they team up either. Of course husbands and wives have differences of opinion too, but it sure is nice to see people prioritize their loved ones, even when it becomes inconvenient to do so.
I may not like each character but I love how they make decisions consistent and faithful to their beliefs. I mean, I hate Lily. Lily wants to keep everything fun, and I don’t appreciate being pressured to party when I’m focused on something about which I’m passionate, let alone when I want to work on solutions to survival problems. She even smokes pot, which keeps coming up in LAFF movies, but here it’s not a crutch to make her wacky. It’s all a defense mechanism that speaks to the marriage she’s stuck in and the lie she’s living. Setting that loose on her husband and his gang of intellectual provocateurs is healthy. It’s what needs to happen in a stable society, but it took this crisis to confront her. I admire James’ desire to be self-sufficient but his single-mindedness outweighs his idealism. Being selfish doesn’t work no matter how prepared you are. Benji believes in important things but I think he only knows how to fight. He’s not comfortable in compassionate settings. Lauren made one mistake that’s invalidated all her other accomplishments in society’s eyes. We’ve got to stop judging, people.
Becky is a saint. I’m exaggerating, but Becky believes in doing things for the greater good, taking care of others for no personal gain. She is an outcast because her ideology isn’t sexy and she sees through everyone’s artifice when it justifies their selfish desires. She mentions religion, which her friends use to discredit her, but I don’t think she even needed to mention God. Caring is just a good thing anyway. You can see it in her protection of her husband. She’s trying help him extricate himself from this toxic partnership and friendship. She doesn’t care about the company profit or anything. She wants her husband to be free of emotional burden and give him a healthy future. That’s not religion. Becky may be a work of fiction but she is the ideal to which I strive.
Just because the film is set on the farm with a small group of intellectual people doesn’t mean it’s not exciting. Suspense lingers over the entire film. When the National Guard visits the farm, the characters and the audience have to wonder if they’re for real, and even when that situation is resolved, you’ve got to imagine they’ll be back, or someone more dangerous could arrive. The film explores all the suspenseful dangers of anarchy, gathering supplies and encountering other survivors. It contains the spectacle to viral videos and hearsay, which is a technique of low budget filmmaking but is organic to the story and damn exciting. You get plenty of examples of society crumbling so Goodbye World is not lacking for scale or scope. Lev MacGyvers a security system for the farm so there’s even a bit of a minimalist action movie here. I suspect some critics might find that this group of people is too centrally connected to the virus itself, but I would say why not explore a group with these subtle connections to the event?
The collapse of society is an instigator but what makes each apocalypse story unique is who is surviving it. The decisions you have to make with your friends and your enemies are where true drama comes from. Goodybe World was even able to surprise me. I really didn’t know where it was going, and that’s a nice feeling to have when I’ve seen so many movies, especially in a genre movie.