4:44 Last Day on Earth: Film Review

Abel Ferrara manages to film the world's end on a shoestring budget.

Bad-boy auteur Abel Ferrara creates the end of the world in a Lower East Side apartment with Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh as a couple watching it all on TV.

NEW YORK -- According to Abel Ferrara, the world ends not with bangs or whimpers, but with bittersweet Skype calls and reruns of Al Gore talking to Charlie Rose. In his 4:44 Last Day on Earth, the auteur imagines the apocalypse from an aging NYC hipster's perspective, hitting melancholy notes that may ring true for a small segment of the art-house audience but, without the compelling presence of Willem Dafoe, would have little hope at the box office.

Dafoe's Cisco shares a Lower East Side apartment with his much younger painter girlfriend Skye (Shanyn Leigh). At some point well before the film's opening, scientists have convinced the world that "Al Gore was right" and that a hole in the atmosphere will somehow cause humanity's extinction all at once, at 4:44 tomorrow morning.

The eerie calm with which Ferrara's world greets its last hours may be absurdly unbelievable, but there's something entrancing about it as well, at least inasmuch as it concerns Cisco and Skye. In between reliving the occasional fond memory ("I was at that game!" Cisco says as he rewatches the 1967 Super Bowl on one of the many TVs and iPads the couple keep going), they continue to work on writing and art they clearly value, despite knowing it won't survive them. Believably, they also spend a good deal of time having sex.

Tending to life's loose ends creates a few bits of melodrama for the film, but if the setups are convincing -- Cisco, a drug addict who has been clean for years, is tempted to get a fix; last words must be shared with faraway loved ones -- they sometimes play out implausibly, with shrill and sudden mood swings.

Occasional comic notes, like the sight of people through a gym's window, still working off calories when they could be enjoying no-regrets final dinners, balance an elegiac tone which might just as well be mourning the real-world passing of Manhattan's Downtown bohemia.

Venue: New York Film Festival, Main Slate (IFC)
Production Companies: Fabula, Funny Balloons, Wild Bunch
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Shanyn Leigh
Director-screenwriter: Abel Ferrara
Producers: Brahim Chioua, Peter Danner, Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín, Vincent Maraval
Director of photography: Ken Lelsch
Production designer: Frank DeCurtis
Costume designer: Moira Shaughnessy
Editor: Anthony Redman
No rating, 84 minutes