A decade after his debut feature Four Lions, influential British comedian Chris Morris
returns to the subject of terrorism in The Day Shall Come. In this film, however, there
are no real terrorists, just a group of desperately vulnerable people forced into a toxic
situation by the somewhat invisible hand of the F.B.I.
Directed by Morris and written with Peep Show creator Jesse Armstrong, The Day
Shall Come is based around the F.B.I’s post-9/11 policy of manufacturing terrorists,
most famously the Liberty City 7. The fake terrorist of this story is Moses Al Shabaz
(Marchánt Davis), a sweetly delusional anti-violence preacher who, along with his
four comrades, is trying to build an army to ‘overthrow the white European
hegemony’; they plan to do this with the power of ‘Black Santa.’ His preaching
on Facebook Live regularly attracts audiences of around three. He is destined for a life
on the edge of society; the weird bloke shouting about God in the park you avoid eye
contact with. That is, until F.B.I agent Kendra Glack (the excellent Anna Kendrick)
spots his Facebook ramblings and spies an opportunity.
Morris conceives the F.B.I. as an institution of endless incompetence fuelled by an
infinite amount of resources. This is contrasted nicely with the absolute poverty of
Moses’ family; any shots of the F.B.I or white neighbourhoods are displayed with
sprawling, canyon wide-shots, while Moses’ farm is all constricted to close-ups. In their
desperation to seem capable – that they have some grasp on the amorphous ‘terrorist’
threat – it becomes easier to create their own crisis than solve real ones. So, they set
traps filled with tantalising bait of weapons and armies, and Moses is caught within it.
Davis is wonderful as Moses, pitching the right amount of pure humanity amidst
cosmological levels of delusion he operates under.
Except Moses doesn’t use weapons for a violent revolution; he just wants money for his
farm and to make his wife and children happy. His refusal to accept the endless
offers of the F.B.I informant means he gets caught in an ever-increasing farcical web
of absurd situations. The film is fittingly defined by ceaseless parade of brilliantly witty
double-negatives; “his get-of-jail-card is going to jail?… Act nervous like you’re
holding nukes, not nervous like you’re not holding nukes… It makes perfect sense;
you just have to say it slowly so the contradictory elements are far apart.”
Yet, The Day Shall Come doesn’t quite seem to work. It attempts to cram an
immensely complex story of intuitional corruption, racial bias, urban desolation,
mental illness and the problems of absolutist faith inside a 90-minute screwball
comedy. It feels simultaneously overcooked and underdone, too much and too little.
And when the film finishes, you’re left with a sense that the unanswered questions
are not the result of intentional ambiguity, but poor construction.
Image: Movie DB