It’s quite a rare occurrence for me to come into a film almost completely blind, but I purposely made the decision not to read or watch anything about Chris Morris’ latest offering prior to seeing it. Indeed, just knowing that the controversial British writer/director/satirist was at the helm was enough to pique my interest. It’s been a while since I’ve been to see a film that isn’t what I would call ‘easy viewing’ and my brain decidedly needed some intellectual feeding.
The best way to describe the set-up is to lift it from the film’s website; I could not do the plot justice with my own attempts at setting the scene: “With his wife Venus (Danielle Brooks), Moses (Marchánt Davis) runs a mission offering local youth salvation through religion, education, self-empowerment and farming. Their hero is the Haitian slave rebel General Toussaint.” So far so straightforward, right? But this is within the constructed reality of the writer (Morris) of The Day Today, Brass Eye, and more recently, the controversial Four Lions. Along with co-writer Jesse Armstrong with the Oscar-nominated In The Loop under his belt, The Day Shall Come has some pretty strong, brains behind it. Strong and quite warped.
When I come to a film knowing little about it, especially when I know it is a comedy, I am sensitive to the audience reaction within the screening.The select audience at this later showing in the Phoenix Picturehouse in Jericho were fully on board from the start. Before I’d had time to attune to the fast-paced, religion-smattered dialogue there were guffaws coming from all around me. My husband, knowing even less than myself about this film, looked at me almost in fear – he has a self-proclaimed blank spot when it comes to a lot of comedy. This was going to be a long couple of hours for him.
On my part, however, I soon got used to the ebb and flow of the language and the absurdist nature of the comedy. With Davis’ rather noble and empathetic performance as no-gun would-be-guru Moses Al Shabaz, who clearly believes in his mission, I was with his character every complicated step of the way. His naivete in the increasingly bizarre situations he found himself in (getting guns from an Al-Qaeda affiliated sheikh, selling nukes to a neo-Nazi gang) was a balanced mix of accidentally hilarious and genuinely passionate. On the other side, the FBI team were easy to dislike, with Anna Kendrick once again pulling her no-nonsense, viperish young professional woman out of the bag. Surrounded by idiots (all male, mostly misogynistic) it is her Agent Kendra Glack who first brings Shabaz to the attention of the FBI. After a bungled attempt to frame a man for terrorism, Glack convinces her cohorts that Moses and his ‘farm’ are a threat and they set out to frame him. So ensues a scenario that is hard to believe and even harder to describe without going into the whole plot. Suffice it to say it’s funny. Very dark, but absurdly hilarious. And terrifying in the truth behind it. With the end credits came the statements about what happened next to all involved in this fictitious (but based in fact) situation, which left an unpleasant taste in my mouth and a fire in my belly.
The final scenes were met with an uncomfortable silence. Here we were laughing at this insanely unbelievable situation, but actually, it could happen. It has happened. It keeps happening. The world has, quite frankly, gone mad. And while the authorities all undoubtedly believe that their actions are for the greater good, maybe we all just need to take a step back and breathe for a moment before assuming that everything and everyone we come across is a threat? As the official film website states: “The Day Shall Come reflects how institutionalised paranoia corrupts our thinking” and I couldn’t sum it up better. Thought-provoking, funny and carried out with a great deal of pathos this “comedy based on a hundred true stories” is a real gem of a film.