DVD: Last Night (1998)

July 25, 2023 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  Alliance

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released: January 5, 2010

Genre: Black Comedy / Science-Fiction

Synopsis: Assorted characters collide and interact in the lead-up to Earth’s demise at precisely midnight.

Special Features: (none)




By 1998, actor-writer Don McKellar had already scripted and co-scripted a handful of highly regarded feature films – Bruce McDonald’s Roadkill (1989) and Highway 61 (1991), Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993), and Dance Me Outside (1994) – so it seemed natural to make his own directorial debut, using some of the talent and connections from prior work.

McKellar had already tested directing via two shorts – Blue (1992) and The Bloody Nose (1992) – and when an opportunity to gain funding for an end-of-the-millenium drama popped up from a French production firm, his unusual proposal of an apocalyptic drama was submitted, and fully funded. McKellar set his tale of the last day of Earth’s existence in his hometown of Toronto, and the tale follows a handful of characters whose loosely or directly bump into each other as the countdown to a doomsday at midnight clicks away.

There’s no explanation of why the world is ending – the government collapsed 2 months earlier, and people were given the remaining months to figure out how to tackle the lead-up to doomsday – but the drama works, largely because there’s no need for the kind of epic backstory, moments of mass hysteria, and scenes culminating in gigantic, global urban collapse. Moreover, the End is taken as a fact: the sky will brighten, and it’s up to each individual as to how they’d like to sort out their lives, say goodbye to friends and family, and plan their last night on Earth.

McKellar is Patrick Wheeler, a somewhat estranged, smart-assed brother to Jennifer (Sarah Polley) and her fiance / boyfriend Alex (Trent McMullen). He’s arrived late for the Wheeler family’s last supper, revamped as a Christmas fete because it’s the time Patrick’s mother believes her extended family was at its happiest. It’s a ruse Patrick keeps ridiculing, which provides McKellar a plum opportunity to launch his film as a starkly black comedy, and a satire of the classic sitcom scenario of the frictions and heartfelt chuckles that permeate when family factions assemble under emotional duress to please a matriarch (or patriarch).

Robin Gammell plays the sitcom dad with glasses perpetually sloped on his nose tip, while Roberta Maxwell natters and complains over petty issues which everyone at the table knows carry zero weight when the family will be dead come midnight. It’s doom denial filtered through a satirical lens minus a laugh track, and it establishes the dark tone that carries through until the final act where truths and admissions replace denials and cheap shots. There’s also weird social discomfort that doesn’t feel out of place, because McKellar peppers his scenes with dryly funny shots at Toronto and Canadian figures.

Part of the pleasure is seeing one’s hometown as the central setting: Queen Street, Eglington Avenue, pockets of Etobicoke, and downtown T.O. – plus ever present street and TTC signage, not to mention a couple of scenes in a derelict streetcar. As the clock keeps ticking away, there are increasing news captions, time stamps, and character actress Jackie Burroughs (The Grey Fox) spouting Gaterade and shouting out time left as she jogs through parts of Toronto’s suburbs and downtown.

Patrick’s decision to initially celebrate his last night alone at home is the film’s through-line, and from a distance there’s 1) David Cronenberg, playing gas company exec Duncan, whose last goal is to call every single client in the roster, and tell them they will have gas until the very end before he himself noshes on strawberry ice cream in his Rosedale home; 2) Duncan’s assistant Donna (Tracy Wright) who clearly wants but won’t get a roll in the hay with her boss; 3) Peter’s high school pals Menzies (Michael McMurtry), who’s making his musical debut at the gas company’s branded concert hall; and 4) Craig Zwiller (Callum Keith Rennie), who’s own end-of-life plan is an elaborate checklist of sorts.

Craig brings together several otherwise disparate characters, and in perhaps the film’s funniest sequence, causes a chance encounter with Craig and Patrick’s high school French teacher (Genevieve Bujold). There are many scenes and references that are brilliant local jabs – Randy Bachman hosting an end-of-the-world guitar fest in North York’s Mel Lastman Square is pure icing – but Patrick’s painful attempt to show his teacher his French hasn’t disintegrated to classic franglais is 100% accurate; as a former guinea pig in North York’s French Immersion Program during the 70s and 80s, I can attest the awkwardness when encountering a former strict mentor is totally believable.

The inevitable tension builds not towards how the world will end, but whether Patrick and new flame Sandra (Sandra Oh) will reach a particular conclusion, and it’s deftly handled without any visual bombast.

There’s a slight parallel in Steve De Jarnatt’s underrated apocalyptic drama Miracle Mile (1988), where the buildup is similarly inferred through select moments and images of chaos prior to the blindingly bright finale.

McKellar applies scenes of distant clouds of smoke pulsing from 1960s apartment complexes, sounds of outside chaos, regular news reports, and a DJ (Tom McCamus and his magnificent voice) spinning his personal top song countdown – but the finale is where satire is semi-retired, and the focus is on two characters whose very different plans for their respective last nights fuse into hybrid plan that’s part speed-dating, and coup de grace. McKellar opts for a final shot that’s both tense and elegant, especially the human sounds which ultimately dominate after McKellar cross-cuts between side characters whose vague plans and / or last wishes may or may not come true.

Sandra Oh’s performance really anchors the drama and augurs McKellar’s rendition of a dry, rather verbose Patrick, and she strengthens his performance as their scenes together reshape their character’s respective goals for the night.

The secondary characters have their own oddball arcs. Rennie steals the film for a while as Craig’s own intentions and identity move from a sleazy archetype to someone more than a bit weird. Cronenberg is fine as a bookish suit who leaves his desk one last time in an immaculate state because it’s in his robotic nature. Perhaps the least intriguing character is a worried mother waiting with her daughter in an abandoned streetcar; Arsinée Khanjian’s part is really just a billed cameo.

Alexina Louie and Alex Paulk’s score is a peculiarly eerie, sometimes Morriconesque series of tracks that also work as darkly comedic commentary, and the cinematography by Douglas Koch (I’ve heard the Mermaids Singing, When Night is Falling, Crimes of the Future) bristles with burnished film grain, with only one scene – Duncan’s Rosedale dining room – being a soothing, carefully coloured respite from an otherwise desaturated colour palette. The sharp editing by Reg Harkema (Super Duper Alice Cooper) is equally superb, and production designer Diane Dondertman seems to have raided vintage 50s and 60s office warehouse and furniture shops for a variety of chunky metal, leather, and glass fixtures, including a Miesian divan for Craig’s pad.

McKellar’s since directed several other features (Childstar, The Grand Seduction) and TV series (Sensitive Skin), but Last Night, like his Glenn Gould drama, has had a tough time on home video. Both were produced by multiple production entities, including the CBC and defunct Rhombus Media, and although initially available via Alliance in a bare bones edition, that deleted title was replaced by a full screen (!) U.S. edition, both of which are now out of print, making an important Canadian and Toronto-centric film a bit of an orphan film. It is available as a digital download, but it’s a film screaming for a Blu-ray debut, and with proper special features.



© 2023 Mark R. Hasan





External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB — Composer Filmographies: Alexina Louie / Alex Pauk / Howard Shore
Vendor Search Links:

Amazon Canada —  Amazon USA —  Amazon UK



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

Comments are closed.