Interview: Denis Hennelly

Goodbye World

The idea for the apocalypse started with a simple visit to a friend’s house and Goodbye World co-writer and director Denis Hennelly took it from there. Initially wanting to make a film that could take place in the gorgeous backyard and area surrounding a friend’s house, Hennelly didn’t immediately jump to the idea of depicting the potential end of the world for his latest film (premiering on VOD this Friday) but the potential for human drama at the end of all things in a climate where people no longer interact to each other’s faces was simply too good of an idea to pass up.

“You know, (actress) Gaby (Hoffman) said something to me while we were making this film. She was actually doing research for something else, and I can’t remember what it was, but it was something I had never thought of. It’s that the word apocalypse actually means in Greek means that knowledge is coming to the surface and that there’s a change coming.” He said during a phone interview last week. “Apocalypse doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the world, but that something deep is coming out.”

For the group of friends assembling in Hennelly’s film, those certain somethings might be harder to bring to the surface than an asteroid would be to the Earth. Set against the backdrop where a mass text  to millions simply saying “Goodby World” has managed to crush local infrastructure, several friends meet under less than amicable circumstances. The home owner, James (Adrian Grenier), is a new school hippie living just a few degrees away from being off the grid. He has invited over a former business partner, Nick (Ben McKenzie), who’s still sore over being frozen out of the company he helped James create and who suspects ulterior motives over his invitation. Nick also used to date James’ current wife (Kerry Bishe), and Nick’s current wife – the libertarian leaning Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) – doesn’t seem to be jiving with James’ current long term houseguests: a convicted and recently freed ex-hacker named Benji (Mark Webber) and his considerably younger and brasher girlfriend (Remy Nozik).

All of the characters are to large degrees closeted hypocrites by definition. James wants to live deliberately, but as long as his comfort is never challenged. Nick is a ruthless capitalist who gets bummed out that business got in the way of his best friendship and closest romantic relationship. Benji still talks a big game, but at the same time carries with him a holier than thou sense of rehabilitation that suggests he’s living vicariously through his girlfriend.

Denis Hennelly“It’s really interesting to hear that kind of a take on it, and I think that’s really true of these characters.” He said when I brought up the sort of unifying theme of the three core best friends. “It’s very convenient for someone like James to have all these ideals but also have these clear lines drawn where he doesn’t want to lose his comfort. Nick has a bit more of a right to be angry, I think, and he does own part of the house so he has something that he can lord over James to make himself feel slightly better. And with Benji, I think there’s this really interesting ego thing happening where he used to spend some much of his life with what he thought were all these great ideas that he could just put into action and now he still has all of them, but no real outlet for them, and that confuses him and he’s unsure how to deal with it.”

Once the shit hits the fan and all communications are knocked out, the mismatched and fracturing couples (and James’ young daughter) start to buckle down for the long haul and they’re joined by two friends from their past: Laura (Hoffman) who became an internet celebrity and a Washington D.C. pariah when a sex tape between her and a married senator went viral, and Lev, (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi), a kind hearted, possibly drug addled suicidal who possibly had something to do with the world crippling virus being unleashed in the first place. These characters are just as interesting, as their arrival brings two characters to the scenario that can admit to their own guilt and culpability over past actions.

“They’re really both born leaders, in a way, and they’re really the ones who probably should be telling everyone else to do, especially Laura. The movie takes these other characters with the confronting of similar things that these two already realize because they’ve been knocked down the hardest by life.” Hennelly said. “Laura is a born leader being told that she can’t lead. For Scott’s character, I think he just needs that kind of personal connection that he hasn’t had for so long to alleviate some of his guilt and pain. But still, both of them have largely accepted what life would have been like if it ended for them on this day.”

It’s certainly not a very typical depiction of the end of the Earth. It’s certainly a lot more low key since it’s removed from the major urban spaces currently getting laid to waste. Eventually external problems pile up as pushy neighbours, sociopathic National Guard members, and internal struggles begin to rip the group apart. It’s handled with a lot of in fighting, but a minimal amount of theatrics and bombast, despite what one of the film’s trailers might say.

“There’s a lot more drama and action in that trailer than there might be in the movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great trailer, but we’re interested in something else. This is a question as to how the world could really end when no one really interacts with each other anymore and everything has always been kept as sort of an arm’s length through Facebook updates and occasional emails and things like that. This is about what happens when the world seems to be ending and you’re forced into that face-to-face that’s been put off for far too long.”