Completed in 2001, Calum Grant and Joshua Atesh Litle’s Ever Since the World Ended—a tale of Bay Area survivors of a viral apocalypse—is superficially indebted to the faux-verité trickery of then-phenom The Blair Witch Project. A more significant influence, however, is Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (though not the Charlton Heston cine-adaptation The Omega Man), with which its science-fiction tale shares a deep fascination with the logistical and psychological dilemmas arising from society’s breakdown. Driven to create a record of his new, post-modern landscape, documentarian Cal (Grant) sets about interviewing some of the 186 people in San Francisco who managed—through unknown means—to live through the 12-year-old plague, his investigation unearthing a ramshackle community struggling to subsist, procreate, and protect themselves from supposedly dangerous men like returned outcast Mad Mark (Mark Routhier) in an environment with ill-defined notions of morality. Generational divides between those who do and don’t remember the past, as well as the chasm between city and countryside inhabitants, are two of the many conflicts addressed by Cal’s talking-head subjects, which include a young scavenger, a woman looking to find a man to father her child, a teenager who doesn’t care about history, and—once Cal ventures outside S.F.‘s borders—a hunter-gatherer who lives in the woods’ treetops.
With a budget far smaller than the similar 28 Days Later, directors Grant and Litle shrewdly employ shots of barren cityscapes and mountain ranges shrouded in fog to amplify the empty loneliness of their characters’ stories, and their intense interest in individuals’ responses to the absence of bedrock social structures like religion and law enforcement (and any accompanying set of communal ethical standards) gives their film a resonant intimacy and depth. At only 78 minutes, Ever Since the World Ended shortchanges a couple of its intriguingly touched-upon issues (including one of a conspiracy theorist whose ideas apparently attract little notice from his fellow survivors). Nonetheless, there’s something profoundly stirring about its finale, in which a public screening of Cal’s documentary subtly conveys cinema’s profound ability to help humanity understand itself and its ever-evolving world.