Directed by Brian Horiuchi
Written by Brian Horiuchi
Starring Josh Hartnett, Rosario Dawson, Teresa Palmer, Penn Badgley
With less armageddon and drama than Contagion, but more soul than Another Earth, Brian Horiuchi’s Parts Per Billion is a looming end-of-the-world story that never dallies too much with the science, in favour of focusing the meat of its running time on the emotional resonance that the unavoidable threat brings with it to several interconnected couples, who are forced to look into the abyss of their potential ends, as well as the end of everything else.
Sometimes bittersweet, but mostly bitter, the film is less a study on what you would expect to happen in the event of a cataclysmic socierty-shattering event but more a last look at a select handful of individuals, all of them in love with each other to some extent and how these momentous events affect that love. When faced with your own inevitable demise, it would seem naive to imagine that anyone would be around for you when the bomb actually drops, but Horiuchi’s study here suggests that despite being responsible for the problems encountered, humanity is, at the end, a good deal more philanthropic with its emotional backbone.
Whether you buy into this is something else, but you cannot help but be moved by the considered performances from the cast on display, all of whom do justice to a story that may not be exactly what you are expecting. Unhurried and yet drawn at times, despite the meagre running time, the film does its utmost to draw you into the relationships of three featured couples without ever really achieving it. If Horiuchi wants you to feel despair, or loss, or even anger at your own kind for ruining it for themselves and everyone else, then he is mostly failing, as even whilst the players tug at the heartstrings of one another, they fail to have the same effect on the audience, who will remain largely ambivalent.
The question why is a good one, however. It may be down to the unconvincing premise, a killer waft from the middle east has people dropping like flies across the world, with the United States the last to fall victim to the airborne virus that seems to kill with impunity and with no guarantee of speed or voracity. The lack of engagement may be due to not appreciating the need for the audience to be more well informed about the disaster at hand and the unfairness of it all. This is approached in a lacklustre script, but the success of it never materialises and subsequently, the audience may not care about the characters that all have development arcs that are way to narrow for the amount of emotional resonse they are demanding.
Shot simply and effectively, the film looks authentic enough with barren towns and corpses prone in the streets. The newscasters at the start of the film seem a little contrived, however, which would have probably undermined the story for everyone before it had really even begun.
In all, a valiant stab by Horiuchi at presenting a sober tragedy. attempting to catch life’s simple highlights in the form of an existence only being lived through love. A pertinent argument maybe in these days where simplicity is a quickly forgotten benefit. A more impressive script would have made this substantially better, as the talent is certainly up to it. If anything, I could have sat through another half an hour, had it been devoted to fleshing out the characters, in order for everyone to feel the loss when they finally succumbed to their collective fates.