Director/Screenplay – Todd Berger, Producers – Kevin M. Brennan, Gordon Bÿelonic, Jeff Grace & Datari Turner, Photography – Nancy Schreiber, Visual Effects Supervisor – Aaron Arendt, Production Design – Peter K. Benson. Production Company – Vacationeer Film/Gordon Bÿelonic-Datari Turner Films/Cactus Three/Tip-Top Productions/Arm Entertainment/Midwinter Studios
David Cross (Glenn Randolph), Julia Stiles (Tracy Scott), Rachel Boston (Lexi Kivel), America Ferrera (Hedy Galili), Erinn Hayes (Emma Mandrake), Blaise Miller (Pete Mandrake), Kevin M. Brennan (Buck Kivel), Jeff Grace (Shane Owens), Todd Berger (Hal), Laura Adkin (Jenny Alexander), Rob McGillivray (Gordon Alexander)
Tracy brings her new boyfriend Glenn with her to the latest of a regular couples lunch put on by her friends, husband and wife Pete and Emma Mandrake. Two other couples, the married Buck and Lexi Kivel, and Hedy Galili and Shane Owens who have been engaged for six years, also turn up. Not long after they arrive, the phones and internet appear to stop working, followed by the power going off. As they argue about this, Pete and Emma reveal that they are about to divorce. A neighbour then informs them that several dirty bombs have been released downtown and that a cloud of radiation is heading their way. Panicking, they seal up the house, later learning that a cloud of deadly VX nerve gas has also been released. Each of them tries to cope in different ways, while the situation causes problems that all of them have been hiding to come to the fore.
It’s a Disaster was the second film for writer-director-actor Todd Berger. Berger is a member of the comedy troupe Farce Force 5 and had previously worked as an actor in minor parts in various films. Berger has made several short films as director and wrote the screenplays for various Kung Fu Panda and Smurfs short films. He made his feature-length writing-directing debut with the little seen The Scenesters (2009), a comedy spoofing serial killers and Found Footage. (You can spot Berger in person in the film here as the next-door neighbour who turns up in a hazmat suit).
It’s a Disaster falls into the genre of the social apocalypse film. Unlike big-budget efforts such as When Worlds Collide (1951), Deep Impact (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 2012 (2009), it is unconcerned with the spectacle of the end of the world and falls into a small sub-genre of these films that deal with the apocalypse on a small personal scale. This sub-genre might include films such as The Trigger Effect (1996), Last Night (1998), The Divide (2011), 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011), Melancholia (2011), Goodbye World (2013), These Final Hours (2013) and Into the Forest (2015). These are films that strip away big-budget effects (and quite frequently even any explanation for what is about to happen) and concentrate on the human reaction to the extinguishment of everything. (It’s a Disaster strips the disaster away so much that it seems to chop and change explanations for what is going on – at one point, it is dirty bombs detonated in the downtown, later it turns out to be a deadly nerve gas). In the last couple of years, we have seen this personal apocalypse treated as a comedy with the likes of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) and This is The End (2013). It’s a Disaster has a surprising number of similarities to This is The End, which likewise was an End of the World film that took place with an ensemble of characters barricaded inside a house. Both films even end with the characters about to greet The Rapture.
Imagine This is The End without a bunch of Hollywood actors/friends playing themselves and cast with a crosscut of contemporary couples in their mid-thirties and the raucous humour played down more as a relationship comedy/drama and you have It’s a Disaster in a nutshell. The film works for the better part as a sharp and well-turned character drama, even if it never lights the world up with anything astounding. Occasionally, Todd Berger stumbles onto a more blackly funny undertow – like the scene where another couple (Laura Adkin and Rob McGillivray) turn up late and Julia Stiles’ refusal to let them in for the possibility of contamination turns into a rant about how inconsiderate their constant lateness is; the scene where Rachel Boston and Kevin M. Brennan reveal they are swingers and come onto David Cross; or the phonecall from a call centre in Singapore in the midst of the crisis.
The film is well cast and all of the principal cast members have done an excellent job rehearsing and playing off one another. The surprise among the cast is David Cross. I have never liked Cross’s comedy and the only other work I have seen him in is the agonising Alvin and the Chipmunks films. Here he has toned down his comedy persona and plays an average mild-mannered Clark Kent type who always seems the polite voice of reason among the group before a decidedly off-the-wall end revelation about his character. You have to command Cross for getting into the character and playing the role completely straight and without once breaking character. All of the rest of the cast give good performances, even if Jeff Grace’s nerd gets overdone. The standout amongst the group is Rachel Boston who plays a raucously loud character and goes for broke with the part.