Conor Horgan’s feature film debut doesn’t follow the usual script for an apocalyptic tale, writes Pádraic Killeen
COUNTLESS movies have taken the end of the world as their subject over the years. Drenched in adrenalin and romance, such films invariably feature explosion after explosion before, ultimately, Bruce Willis or some such figure fixes everything just in the nick of time. Very few apocalypse films, however, have ever heeded TS Eliot’s famous assertion that the world ends not with a bang but with a whimper. Conor Horgan’s debut, One Hundred Mornings, is a rare film that bucks the trend, opting to stage the whimper, and to make this whimper insistently tense and engaging.
A hit at festivals worldwide, Horgan’s apocalyptic narrative focuses on a small group of survivors in the wake of an unexplained societal collapse. The central protagonists — two young couples — are holed up in a lakeside house in the Dublin Mountains. In addition to maintaining strained ties with the armed and scavenging inhabitants of a nearby village, they must also overcome strife in their own camp.
Though zero information is given in the film as to the cause of the disaster, the bleak upshot is that — just as in Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road — all that truly matters in the wake of a devastating calamity is gaining access to scant resources, whilst protecting oneself in an increasingly hostile world.
Horgan, a veteran photographer and journalist who has also made some fine short films and documentaries, was moved to address societal breakdown in his debut feature, having become intrigued by the escalating factors that suggest a global catastrophe may be closer than expected.
The director’s interest in this subject was piqued, he says, by a talk the novelist Margaret Atwood gave in Dublin in 2005. He recalls: “At one point, she noted, almost as an aside, ‘of course, any species that outgrows its resource base won’t survive’. Everyone in the room just went gulp. It was so simply and so eloquently put.
“So the film is not an exploitation movie that just takes a certain scenario and wrings a story out of it. It comes from a place that I’m very engaged with. There seems to be some very serious challenges hoving into view and the response so far has been very poor.”
One of the things Horgan was eager to explode, he says, was the human conceit that runs, ‘Oh, I’ll be fine. I’ll just get some food and head for the hills.’ “I thought, well, what would that be like if you just headed for the hills, particularly for people as wildly over-stimulated as we are? Also, there seems to be a view that if things did break down it would be a very exciting time and that all sorts of things would be possible that aren’t possible now, and I just don’t buy that at all. If the film is saying anything then it’s saying that society may not be great, and may not work as well as it could, but it’s always going to be better than having no society.”
Leavening the serious overtones of One Hundred Mornings are the film’s flashes of dry wit and the warmth of nuance underlining the central human relationships, especially between the charismatically jaded Jonathan (Ciarán McMenamin) and the eccentric loner Tim (Robert O’Mahony). There is also the quite stunning work of cinematographer Suzie Lavelle, who blends moody low-lit interiors with autumnal exteriors shot around Lough Dan in Wicklow. The inscrutable beauty of the landscape photography only emboldens the film’s cautionary tale of human catastrophe.
“There’s a sense that the earth is indifferent, or that nature is indifferent, to their plight,” says Horgan.
“It was quite a difficult thing for me to find somebody whom I could trust with the photography,” he continues. “Because I was a photographer before I was anything. But Suzie and I developed a shorthand very quickly. There was a great moment when we first met to discuss the film. On our laptops we’d both brought folders of random images that would suggest our ‘feeling’ of the film, and as it turned out we’d brought some of the same pictures. So from then on I knew it was going to work.”
One Hundred Mornings goes on general release today.
Picture: Ciarán McMenamin and Alex Reid in One Hundred Mornings, about two couples struggling to survive in the wake of societal collapse.