Friend of the World: The Divine Comedy of Body Horror

Have you ever wondered what a body horror movie led by Sterling Hayden’s Brigadier General Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove would look like? Well, have I got a movie for you. Brian Patrick Butler’s Friend of The World may never be known as Kubrickian, but it will undoubtedly capture the attention of satire fans, horror lovers, and fans of Stanley Kubrick‘s 1964 film looking for extreme comparisons, especially if you wondered what could have happened to Ripper after Slim Pickens rides “Hi There” into the Russian ground. It may be the end of the world as we know it, but should that stop atrocities from continuing in whatever happens next?  

General Gore holds a rifle up to Diane in Friend of the World

If you’ll allow me to do my best Rod Serling impression: imagine, if you will, an eccentric general with antiquated principles leading a progressive black filmmaker through a series of tunnels to ensure their survival after a vaguely described doomsday scenario. The general shares his firm stances on his way of life, while the filmmaker shares her alternative views. During their journey, they encounter mutated individuals, get high, and fight each other on everything. One way or another, they will have to see eye to eye because, like it or not, they will have to live together or die trying.  

Nick Young and Alexandra Slade have fantastic chemistry onscreen, akin to a hostage and kidnapper dynamic. We watch as Diane Keaton (Slade, and yes, there are jokes about that) faces off with General Gore in his underground bunker, often unsuccessfully, as he claims the rights to the new world that will emerge in the wasteland of this one. Young’s presence is a bit Bruce Campell mixed heavily with Sterling Hayward. The character is so over-the-top in everything that, when he’s not on-screen, you’re waiting for the next gut-punch of Jack Burton-esque (Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China) machismo dialogue. Young’s distinctive whimsy gives Slade plenty to work with, and since the film is mainly character study, it helps this quick 51-minute movie roll by. 

Friend of the World doesn’t mess around with its run time, and there’s plenty to notice as soon as the movie begins. First, the Dante quote, “The more a thing is perfect, the more it feels pleasure and likewise pain.” Knowing I was going into a body horror film, I braced more for a Hellraiser experience after the introductory line. After the movie ended, I understood more why the quote was there. The film crafts a Divine Comedy similarity, where the hellscape below the surface and the monsters faced become worse as Diane travels to the seventh circle of hell with her unceremonious guide in tow.

Gore pushes Diane up against a wall by her throat in Friend of the World

Next, Friend of the World starts with a momentary black and white shot to a 4:3 frame in color. The bulk of the movie is in black and white, but whenever characters reminisce or consider what may be left of the old world, we see flashes of color. I thought this was an interesting take. The beauty of the world as it is now, even with its imperfections, versus the bleak colorlessness of a future where a person like General Gore can impose his particular perspective. The kind of tyrannical autocracy of a person who says “conflict between two entities is unresolvable” and “freedom is death.” 

Finally, there’s the overall aesthetic. The film is clearly low budget and, for the most part, shot in either a warehouse or rotated angles in an unfinished basement. Wherever it is, the space is used wisely, providing plenty of claustrophobia. There are even some great shots right away that recall George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, where Diane’s friends lay executed as they breached the space. This is my favorite aspect about these little films that are often overlooked. They make up for what they don’t have in the budget in sheer creativity and apt camerawork. Friend of the World is the type of movie still heavily reliant on making movie magic, as opposed to “fixing it in post,” and I have a lot of respect for that. 

Now, I did mention that this is a body horror film, which is probably why you’re still reading…or you’ve skipped to this point and are enjoying the photos supplied (who am I to judge). After the initial meet and greet between characters, it becomes clear that the structure where Gore is staying is not going to hold. As the two travel to safe haven, where Gore promises rescue, they encounter monstrous mutated humans attempting to fuse with them. The effects are absolutely fantastic. Most are practical, but even the computer-generated ones work, presumably thanks to the use of black and white, which helps provide the nostalgic aspect of a Twilight Zone episode or ‘50s nuclear panic film. There are also some intensely WTF moments, such as when a man emerges out of another man and uses the…um “fertilizer placenta” to craft a bomb. 

A mutated soldier attempts to merge with Gore in Friend of the World

My only issue with the film is that it sometimes comes off a little disconnected, almost like a web series stitched together. That doesn’t negate the fantastic satire of Brian Patrick Butler’s film, which is equal parts depraved and charming. Far-right politics and conspiracy theories meld with the doomsday scenario many in our society appear to want, and we get the view from the outsider that shows the absolute craziness of that world.  As the film climaxes, Diane and Gore have a final showdown as Gore’s “Friend of the World Pact” sheds light on the fate of the world. It ends aligned with The Divine Comedy‘s, though with a very Tales from the Crypt kind of poignancy. 

Effects nerds and body horror fans will have a good time, but there aren’t many scares in the film, just a few intense moments. I enjoyed the movie in many ways and would love to see what Butler could do with a tighter script and more resources. Friend of the World was filmed in 2016-17, making it feel frighteningly apropos of the early days of Covid-19. People looking for a movie to sum up those days may really get a shock from how much more divided we’ve become.

Troma Entertainment picked up Friend of the world for distribution last month, and the film is now streaming on their platform, Troma Now. You can also stream Friend of the World on Tubi, Plex, Xumo, or buy/rent it on Prime Video.

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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