The horror comedy film is quite possibly my favorite type of film — but it is also incredibly hard to pull off. Night of the Creeps, An American Werewolf in London, Slither, Tremors, Evil Dead 2, and Shaun of the Dead all expertly thread the two genres together by making the comedy deeper than quippy reactions to poorly realized horror conventions. The films tend to be celebrations of the horror genre while putting a quirky spin that showcases the filmmakers’ love and playfulness. There’s a real dedication to delivering on the scares and gore, while trusting in well-developed characters to propel the comedy and plot. Many films attempt to strike this balance, but usually deliver lame comedy with shoddy creatures or make up FX. Unfortunately, They Will Outlive Us All is more of the latter, a film with an intriguing premise that tries to coast on the sarcastic banter of its characters but comes up very short both in the horror and comedy departments.
Set in a 2016 Brooklyn that has been besieged by natural disasters and freak superstorms that dwarf Hurricane Sandy, They Will Outlive Us All finds roommates Daniel and Margot contending with water shortages, mandated curfews, people dying in their apartment building, and a lack of diversity of movies to watch. But are the deaths connected? Is there something sinister going on in the building — possibly related to the green ooze found in all the apartments of the victims? The answer is, of course, yes, there’s an evil presence stalking the building’s tenants and it’s up to Daniel and Margot to defeat it and survive the night.
There are many problems with They Will Outlive Us All beyond the tired plotting. Most of the film is just the two main characters confined to one location; in more capable hands, that could be an occasion for strong character work and comic banter. Unfortunately, Daniel and Margot are holdovers of a clichéd type that has far outlived its usefulness: the sarcastic slacker. Instead of learning more about them, the filmmakers replace character work with easy drunk gags and endless cursing in lieu of clever dialogue.
The other main problem with these two leads is that neither are protagonists. Protagonists are characters that move the plot forward, but Daniel and Margo instead are always at a loss for a plan, reluctant to do anything, and are content to bumble their way through the running time. One could argue this is “realistic,” that most people when confronted by mutant cockroaches (spoiler? I honestly can’t tell as it’s part of the marketing) will stammer and be unable to react with much more than panic. But that doesn’t translate to an entertaining story; instead it’s just a slog until you wait for someone to do something.
To be fair, there are some very strong elements of the film. Daniel Rosen’s music is excellent, in one scene evoking the martial drums of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and aping the synthetic creepiness of John Carpenter scores in the next. Daniel and Margot, as played by Nat Cassidy and Jessi Gotta (who also wrote and produced), have great chemistry and deliver performances that are hampered by poor writing and lack of characterization. But flat camera work, poorly lit scenes, and choppy editing surround and drone out any good aspects. I can overlook cheap bug puppets and clumsy jump scares if the dialogue is interesting or there’s a real sense of mood being established, but in their absence these flaws become all too apparent.
They Will Outlive Us All should be commended for going with a new apocalypse, rather than a wave of hipster zombies taking over Brooklyn. But that is unfortunately the only slightly interesting or new take on otherwise well-worn material. When you are focusing the entirety of your film on only two characters in one static location, then you have to bring fully realized people to engage the audience. Boring character types spouting uninspired dialogue simply won’t work because there are no other aspects to distract from their blandness. Perhaps this is the way the world ends, not with a bang or a whimper — but a poorly written quip.