DOOMSDAYS Review: Hipster Reckoning

Eddie Mullins’ festival fave features two doomsaying hipsters - and is a lot more likable than that sounds.

When one door closes, another opens. In Eddie Mullins’ Doomsdays, that second door is actually a window through which his protagonists, Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) and Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick), make a hasty egress. They’re vagabonds living off the grid by choice, breaking and entering into empty vacation homes in the Catskills in search of sustenance and shelter. When we first meet them, they’re in the process of being abruptly dislodged from their current temporary residence when its owners make an unexpected return. This becomes the film’s common routine: our lawless, nomadic heroes mark their territory (sometimes literally), settle into a not-so-humble abode, get soused, and make a run for it when they’re caught out. It’s tough being a doomsaying hipster.

Does that sound like a noxious starting point for a narrative? In truth, the “hipster” label only applies to Fred, by far the more irksome character of the two; he’s a mercurial, fancy-pants wordsmith, whereas Bruho only talks when necessary, filtering every single word he pronounces through a contemptuous sieve. They’re a classic pairing of brains and brawn, though they only offer the impression of intellect. How smart can you be when your life plan is to hop from one mountainside mansion to the next? That’s not exactly a rock-solid blueprint for adulthood, though Fred and Bruho would argue otherwise. The planet, as they see it, is boned, or on the verge of being boned. Humanity is too dependent on fossil fuels to survive the imminent peak oil catastrophe. Might as well get used to a world without petrol now.

They’re full of it, of course, but Mullins knows it and so do we. He isn’t interested in Fred and Bruho because of their prescient genius. He’s interested in them for their melancholy charms. Doomsdays doesn’t have much of a plot, and instead plays episodically as Fred and Bruho meander through the region, cause property damage, and try to get laid. (Fred does, anyways. Bruho is less concerned with getting his rocks off, for reasons that become slightly more apparent in Doomsdays’ final twenty minutes or so.) Eventually, they admit teenager Jaidon (Brian Charles Johnson) into their wayfaring lifestyle; Jaidon’s presence doesn’t change much about their habits, though, and the film continues on, business as usual. The misadventures continue.

But then Fred, Bruho and Jaidon crash a party, where Fred meets Reyna (Lauren Campbell), and the energy changes. Doomsdays feels a bit like Wes Anderson by way of Agnes Varda, sans socially rooted impetus and consequence; it takes the introduction of Reyna to give the film stakes. Everything up to that point is balmy and zany. The real defining quality of these scenes is tonal restraint. Fred’s tendency to talk above his audience is the only quirky luxury Mullins allows himself. Everything else gets played down, from punchlines to sound design. Mullins understands the outsider allure of Fred’s and Bruho’s existence - freedom from cultural norms and the ability to do what you want, when you want - but he’s aware that going overboard with eccentricity would glamorize their habits and test our patience.

In short, Fred and Bruho make for a fun pair, and when all the cast is met, they make for an even more loveable quartet. Even with Jaidon and Reyna’s involvement, though, Doomsdays feels like a study of its leads, especially Fred, who plays the Oscar to Bruho’s Felix, or the Laurel to his Hardy. They tend to change roles in minor ways, but whatever hat Fred wears, he’s Mullins’ real focus. What kind of person actively sheds their American consumerist skin to go a-wandering in the Catskills in the dead of March? For Bruho, whom Fitzpatrick plays with recalcitrant humanity, the experience appears to bear deep, personal and yet unspoken meaning. For Fred, it’s just an excuse to drink and act like an asshole. Fred cuts the more immediately inviting figure of the two, but as Doomsdays marches on, his true hues show and Bruho assumes the mantle of the better man. (He’s also one of the best male allies of 2015 next to Max Rockatansky, though they probably wouldn’t get along with one another.)

Mullins isn’t the first person to tap into the malaise of unmoored thirty-somethings, and he probably won’t be the last. But he does have a refreshingly controlled sense of humor and an eye for crisp compositions. Unlike his characters, Doomsdays is remarkably grown up. Maybe the pre-apocalypse needn’t be so bad after all.