The Decline (2020)

Rating: B-

Dir: Patrice Laliberté
Star: Guillaume Laurin, Marie-Evelyne Lessard, Réal Bossé, Marc Beaupré
a.k.a. Jusqu’au déclin

It’s fitting this film about survivalists originally came out on Netflix in March 2020, just when the apocalypse for which their ilk are preparing, seemed to be sweeping across the globe. Though this was clearly made before COVID, and the closest it gets to predicting it is a brief mention of “a really intense H1N1 outbreak” as a possible source of societal collapse. That it took me so long to watch it is unsurprising. Film is an escape for me from normal life, rather than a reflection of it. And “escape” is the keyword for the characters here too, both in their intentions, and what they eventually need to do.

Antoine (Laurin) and his family are survivalists, to the point where they get their adorable moppet in on the bug-out culture. He gets an invitation from a well-respected YouTuber Alain (Bossé), to a weekend seminar at his compound, way out in the middle of nowhere, and enthusiastically goes along. Hand over his phone? Sure! Wear a blindfold on the journey? Not a problem! Can’t blame Alain for being careful, and it has to be said, the rest of the attendees seem genial enough, such as ex-military Rachel (Lessard), though David (Beaupré) seems to have a little bit of a hair-trigger. The days are filled with training sessions, and the nights with chat. Until an improvised explosives session goes horribly wrong, and the group have to handle the resulting corpse.

For there is a sharp difference in opinions with regard to how that should be done. Some want to dispose quietly of the body, fearing police involvement will end badly for them all. Others still trust in the authorities. After Alain makes a unilateral decision in that matter, things quickly go from questionable to very, very bad. Though Alain in not a novice, if there’s a group you probably don’t want hunting you through the wilderness, it’s probably going to be pissed-off survivalists. Interestingly, the film’s focus undergoes a sudden and drastic shift for the last act. I’m in two minds whether it works. On the one hand, I really liked the intense nature of the finale. On the other: why didn’t it take that route an hour earlier?

I think it does take too long to get to the meat of the matter, the wilderness survival element which dominates the second half. I do appreciate the way Laliberté wants to create human beings rather than caricatures, with the point being how circumstances can quickly cause things to break down [Alain cites the “three days supermarket stock” factoid], even among those otherwise aligned. However, this could and should have been done with greater brevity, instead of occupying the entire first half. We don’t really need to see Antoine being unable to gut a rabbit. It is worth sticking with, as the ferocity ramps up considerably, until a particularly brutal final fight. Glad things didn’t go the same way in reality, after the movie came out.