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Breathe Easy

One day, mysterious red clouds begin to descend on the major cities of Earth. No one's quite sure what they are or where they came from, but as you might expect, there's plenty of panic and nerves to go around. Breathe Easy is the story of these clouds and their effect on the world, creating a global disaster movie that spans the globe in a new way. Shot in 15 countries, it broke the previous records for most shooting locations for a narrative film, and most directors for a narrative film.

The core of the story is set in England, featuring a group of twenty-somethings who seem prepared to drink their way through the apocalypse, a newly formed coven of witches led by Morgana (Imogen Hartley), and the Prime Minister (Neil May). I tried to keep track of all the names and actors but that was a job and a half, believe me. Anyway, the twenty-somethings are all largely interchangeably odd except for the de facto leader Danny (Chris Bain), who occasionally shows some sense as the rest bumble along.

So it's up to the rest of the world to supply some drama. From South Africa to Australia, Hong Kong to the U.S., various vignettes show how citizens of each country do their best to cope. Some governments warn that the cities need to be evacuated, others insist that it's best if city dwellers shelter in their homes, and the confusion leads to rioting and looting.

With so many locations and characters, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Characters appear for two or three scenes and then vanish, and there's little chance of any real narrative arc for most of them. A few ongoing threads, like that of London newsreader Nicola Johnson (Zoe Cunningham) and vlogger Vince (Vincent Chan), help provide some overall connection, but for the most part the film is a collage of scenes, leading to some interesting juxtapositions but also some jarring changes.

The movie might leap from one of the many squabbles among the coven to a sister (Dimitrina Dimitrova) searching for her brother (Volen Stoyanov) somewhere in Bulgaria, or from a South African carjacking to the Prime Minister hiding in his bunker, haplessly trying to convince the country that all is well, and this makes it hard to settle into the film. The eventual resolution feels off, coming out of nowhere and bringing a rather abrupt end to the film, though it does at least grab the viewer's attention.

But while this daring experiment sometimes fails, when it works, it works beautifully. A lone British woman (Christina Baston) encounters a man (Raphael von Blumenthal) who feels compelled to prove how tough he is, with terrible results. A young man (Pratyush Singh) in India records a last message to his mother, clinging to the hope that somehow, miraculously, she'll hear it. A German brother and sister and their best friend struggle to make sense of what's happened to their neighborhood.

At two hours, the film is allowed to ramble in more ways than one, and a tighter edit would probably work wonders. Both production and acting ability vary considerably from story to story, sometimes even within a single scene. But underneath it all is a shared love for filmmaking and an enthusiasm for the story, and it's that more than anything that makes the movie work. It offers a look at the many sides of human nature that's sometimes dryly funny, sometimes horrifying, but often fascinating and always genuine.

Image: 
Movie poster, featuring its less than reassuring hashtag.

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