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First Look Review - FIRE CITY: END OF DAYS

Demons from hell occupy an LA tower block.


Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Tom Woodruff Jr

Starring: Danielle Chuchran, Harry Shum Jr, Kristin Minter, Mary-Margaret Humes, Kimberly Leemans




"Mad as a box of goblins it may be, and, if you want to get in to it, prone to the odd pacing issue too, but what starts as a deeply pessimistic treatise on humanity is transformed into a brave new world of heroism and hope by the final reel."




Tom Woodruff Jr’s noir/fantasy hybrid Fire City: End of Days opens with a grim epigram borrowed from The Tempest; ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here’. The film isn’t kidding; in a literal interpretation of Shakespeare’s words, Fire City: End of Days depicts a world (specifically an L.A. project block), where elaborate demons dwell in disguise among the downtrodden denizens of dank, claustrophobic apartments, parasitically feeding off their mortal misery. Apposite as the Tempest quote is though, it’s not entirely accurate. Not all of the devils are here: something seems to be attempting to cross over from the infernal ether and into our dimension, infecting the humans with confidence and cheer, rendering their auras all but poisonous to the demonic diets which subside on sadness and suffering. What horror will it take to break this new found innocence and save demonkind?
A passion production (with money raised from Kickstarter), Fire City: End of Days certainly delivers on the genre front. The film’s crowdsourced budget is all up there on the screen, with imaginatively designed demons that look just the right side of convincing, their reality further sold by the intricate detail of Fire City: End of Days’ world building. Michael Hayes and Brian Lubocki’s screenplay has that novelistic feel of a world that already exists, as if the film is simply checking in on events ongoing within that grimy reality (the film has a brief prequel in the short Fire City: King of Miseries, which introduced certain characters). The mythology of the demons’ magic seems already established, and the icky ambience of the block is given a signature grimy sheen of soured lighting contrasted with deep, noirish shadows, which gives the setting mythical resonance.
The reference point for Fire City: End of Days would be Clive Barker, specifically the brutal and mysterious fantasy of Nightbreed. There is the same sympathy for elaborate monsters here, along with the added frisson of hard boiled mystery. However, in contrast to the rough diamonds of Midian, the demons in Fire City: End of Days really are monsters, subtly encouraging the inhabitants of the tower to appetising squalor - a young couple are prone to domestic abuse, and a stepfather attempts to rape his young charge - hors d'oeuvres to chief demon and Groot-a-like Vine (Tobias Jelinek), who stalks the corridors in human disguise as a drug dealer. There’s an interesting subtext about class in Fire City: End of Days that Barker would be proud of - a ruling elite subsides on the misery of a subjugated underclass, dependent on them remaining in their circumscribed gloom. When the ‘disease’ hits, it manifests with the humans becoming compassionate and kind; the young couple hopeless in love, and the stepfather checking himself to become the model parent. Confused, the demons endeavour to tempt the mortals back to their wicked ways, but they’re not eating this forbidden fruit (a sexy female demon – the tower’s prostitute - has a go at a threesome with the couple, but this is sweetly laughed off as a failed attempt at ‘performance art’).
Personally, I would have liked to have seen more of this dark comedy wherein the demons are dumbfounded by simple human spirit. The film’s philosophy concerning human nature is one that is so optimistic and buoyant that it rises from the fiery gloom of the film’s mise-en-scene like a phoenix, soaring above the stereotyping of this damaging cliché: how often do we dumbly expect, just as the cynical demons in Fire City: End of Days do, that people in social housing are de facto scum, unable to aspire to much more than criminality and yob rule? Mad as a box of goblins it may be, and, if you want to get in to it, prone to the odd pacing issue too, but what starts as a deeply pessimistic treatise on humanity is transformed into a brave new world of heroism and hope by the final reel of Fire City: End of Days. Fantasy fans will have fun here, and for the rest of us, the devils of Fire City provide tempting company.



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