Global apocalypse gets a Pottery Barn makeover in Goodbye World, Denis Hennelly’s low-key drama following a Big Chill-style college reunion prompted, at least in part, by the collapse of worldwide civilization. Two rotten infrastructures, one a decade-old friend circle and one global society at large, have met their downfall at the same time. What results is a conflation of the grand stakes of apocalypse with the comparatively menial ones of past rivalries and romantic tensions, often to humorous or poignant effect. These big and small dramas play out in a single location: the isolated, self-sufficient, and impossibly gorgeous rural home of James (Adrian Grenier) and Lily (Kerry Bishé). Their friends wisely seek refuge in this bucolic Eden, a veritable hipster fortress complete with guest cabin and organic beer tap, and as more and more guests show up, both the true nature of the horrific outside apocalypse and the unresolved conflicts eating away at the group become clearer. Unfortunately, most of the interpersonal problems of this tetchy band of thirtysomethings are infinitely less compelling than the mysterious and original global disaster Hennelly and co-writer Sarah Adina Smith have devised.
The opening sequence provides a piecemeal explanation of the central crisis: A viral text message merely saying “Goodbye world” has triggered a widespread collapse of all technology, and a freeze in communication and transportation quickly escalates to riots, shortage of goods, and eventually martial law. This sequence also introduces the incredibly varied ensemble of characters, the most compelling of which are Laura (Gaby Hoffmann), a resourceful politician struggling to rebuild her career after a sex-tape scandal, and Lev (Kid Cudi), a troubled hacker who aborts a suicide attempt upon discovering the larger disaster threatening humanity. Unfortunately, much of the film’s screen time is dedicated to its least interesting characters. James and Lily, the de facto protagonists, seemingly exist only as foils to each other: He’s an angry and sanctimonious survivalist, while she’s a clueless, hard-partying valley girl, and neither particularly resembles a real person. The implosion of their marriage is the story’s central plot line, but is informed less by the threat of apocalypse than by the arrival of Lily’s former flame, the studly but stoic-to-a-fault Nick (Ben McKenzie).
The ensuing love triangle is a vortex of uninteresting drama, fueled entirely by the characters’ poor decision-making, that never complements the disaster narrative, which stalls in the background for most of Goodbye World’s second half. Other characters face more intriguing dilemmas, exploring as they do questions of culpability, trust, and faith on both a personal and political scale, but the filmmakers only barely sense Laura’s noble conviction and thirst to take action, the despondency and paranoia of the ghost-like Lev, and the outsider status of the conservative Christian (Caroline Dhavernas), who quietly grows into the film’s most complex and poignant character. In the end, the film is half a clever parable of disaster and recovery, half a soporific soap opera, and never a cohesive product worthy of its strongest ideas and characters.