It’s a lonely job being the last man on Earth, but it is a theme which writers have returned to throughout the history of science fiction as far back as Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, perhaps most famously in I Am Legend, filmed previously as The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man before a third version returned to the original title of Richard Matheson’s classic novel yet missed the point entirely, and more recently in Brian K Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man.
Edgar (Spanish television star Oriol Pla) might not literally be the last human being alive, but he may as well be in the circumstances; seven years have passed since “the incident” and it is just him and his dog KO scrabbling in the ruins of what was once a town, foraging not for roots and berries but for the last remaining tinned goods on the shelves of the supermarkets.
A snowy waste of loneliness and desperation, Edgar is lucky to have KO; it’s companionship, of a sort, and there is little comfort to be found elsewhere in the deserted and decaying funfair and swimming pool, the Ferris wheel frozen forever without power, the pool as empty of water as it is of swimmers.
And then into his disordered but unchanging world there is an intrusion in equal measures unexpected, welcoming and alarming, a single word found spray-painted on his wall when he returns home: Anna. Somebody has been there. Edgar is not as alone as had believed, but nor does the mysterious Anna reveal herself.
While filming scenes for his debut feature Monsters among the deserted houses of Galveston in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike granted an eerie atmosphere for minimal additional cost to the production, here writer/director Lluís Quílez (Out of the Dark/Aguas rojas) has achieved something beyond that, his sole location for Graffiti the northern Ukranian ghost town of Pripyat, only thirty minutes drive away from the radioactive ruin of Chernobyl.
Written by Enemy‘s Javier Gullón and Quílez, “the incident” which has devastated the world is never explained but it is apparent that it was atomic in nature, Edgar checking every new building he enters for residual radiation with his handy Geiger counter, some presumably having absorbed more due to their construction materials while in others the initial emission has safely dissipated or decayed.
Captured by cinematographer Isaac Vila in natural light or by the flickering flame of the candle, the snowbound, crumbling cityscape reminds of Terry Gilliam’s vision of 12 Monkeys, and told almost without dialogue it transcends language and borders, the emotion carried instead by Arnau Bataller’s soundtrack where even after the end of the world, perhaps especially after the end, trust will be hard to come by.
Beautifully simple and simply beautiful, even at thirty minutes the narrative is slight as Edgar and Anna, never having met, fill the wall with their words, the graffiti of the title expressing their hopes and fears, and it is certainly more uplifting and optimistic than any other post-apocalyptic movie featuring a boy and his dog, and it is likely most audiences will choose to interpret the ambiguity with hope.
Graffiti has been selected by over fifty festivals and has won over twenty awards and, along with nine other films, was shortlisted for a 2017 Academy Award although it was not eventually nominated