Friend of the World takes us inside two survivors’ paranoid journey through an apocalypse, but sadly never coalesces into a compelling cinematic vision.
Rising to consciousness from the cold, hard surface of a concrete floor, the young filmmaker Diane (Alexandra Slade) finds a gruesome scene in front of her—blood-splattered walls, a pile of bodies, and a door that won’t open. Wandering through the decrepit corridors of the facility she’s trapped inside, she frustratingly gives up and soon drifts back to sleep.
Waking up, she meets the bombastic and deranged Gore (Nick Young), a general who seems to be the only other survivor of this mysterious apocalypse—a nuclear war that killed most of the world’s population, we later learn. After their tense first encounter, the unlikely duo teams up and begins their journey to find more survivors and the antidote to a mutant virus. Encountering face-melting zombies and nightmarish hallucinations, Diane and Gore’s paranoia and testy mistrust of each other builds as the last desperate clutches of their sanity fades.
The innocuously-titled Friend of the World marks the feature debut of screenwriter and director Brian Patrick Butler. Taking inspiration from films and televisions shows like The Thing, Night of the Living Dead, and The Twilight Zone, this modest 50-minute genre-bending exercise oscillates between body horror, psychological drama, and demented black comedy in a bleak tale of the apocalypse.
For a film with such an awkward runtime, Friend of the World successfully avoids the pitfalls of long shorts and short features, never feeling too rushed or too tedious in its pacing. It never finds itself too bogged down in unnecessary exposition, instead throwing us into the disorienting confusion of the damaged psychological states of these two survivors as they wander through the world’s end. Fueled by quick glimpses of freaky hallucinations and volatile character dynamics, the film succeeds best in crafting an eerie paranoia and unpredictability that keeps it watchable.
Sadly, the rest of the film fails to offer anything else particularly compelling, beyond some impressive flesh-distorting body horror effects that don’t get nearly enough screentime as they deserve. Despite its modest production, Friend of the World never leans into its low-budget sensibilities. For a film set in a derelict, industrial underground, the crisp black and white cinematography is remarkably unimaginative –it’s quite disappointing to see a grimy film like this look so clean and its images don’t properly convey the gloomy atmosphere the story is clearly aiming for. It’s easy to imagine how much better this would be if the film was drenched in grainy, lo-fi images and sound design to match its already fragmented story and mood, since the aesthetics presented feel so forgettable and devoid of necessary personality.
Ultimately, there isn’t anything to take away from watching Friend of the World. Its quick plot and scattered worldbuilding render it unsatisfying from a storytelling perspective and its obvious influences only remind you of films that better flesh out ideas about how the world might end. Meanwhile, its generally bland images and not-surreal-enough atmosphere signal a clear lack of artistic vision. As a piece of genre cinema, it’s just not weird enough to stand out, so by the time the credits roll, it feels like you’ve just woken up from a bad dream that wasn’t strange enough to be memorable.
Friend of the World is now available to watch on Prime Video, Tubi, Plex & Xumo, and on the Troma Now app.