Written by: Adam Vaughn | May 13th, 2021
When Today Ends (Michael Leoni, 2021) 3½ out of 4 stars.
One of many topics that have arisen in our millennial is the ever-growing awareness of mental health and suicide prevention through pop culture and media. This generation is extraordinarily sensitive to the effects of bullying, toxic masculinity, standards for women and negativity towards the LGBQT+ community. Michael Leoni’s When Today Ends captures these elements through the most powerful lens possible: found footage, or a shot-on-iPhone experience that envelops the viewer in as intense, emotional and thought-provoking a manor as possible (even if it relies once in a while on clichés).
When Today Ends weaves the story of four teenagers, who battle diverse forms of depression and bullying to the very end of their short lives. Jenna, Nick/Nicole, Megan and James (Jacqi Vene, Gavin Leatherwood, Angel Guadalupe and Derick Breezee) all record their last moments – and the truth behind their stories – with the same hashtag, #WhenTodayEnds. As the viewer witnesses each person’s story, woven together, they grasp the terrible facts of bullying and how social criticism everyone struggling to discover themselves.
For any person with experience with depression or other mental illnesses, When Today Ends almost scarily plays out as real-life footage, mostly due to the nature of its shaky-cam style of selfie video. It’s the driving factor keeping the viewer invested, as we constantly feel as if we’re walking with each character at all times. Adversely, the film uses cleverly conceived editing to jump from person to person and does so in a dynamic way that never lets up on the pacing … until it does.
At some points, extended dialogue brings the film to a screeching halt, interrupting the overall flow director Leoni establishes to make the beginning scenes so entertaining. About halfway through the film, it transforms from fast-paced story to a devotional piece, as we sit more with each character and witness their descent into depression. While one can comment on how certain cinematic styles lose their luster after a while (the characters placing their phone in the room to create a static shot, for example) anyone who is invested in the fate of the characters can overlook slight cinematic defects.
Overall, When Today Ends has a message for its audience (which in my humble opinion is every person currently walking the Earth) that feels extremely fresh. The progression that each main character has from normal teenager to depression-stricken victim gives suicide a real face, a familiar feeling, and cries out to its audience for help. When Today Ends warns the viewer that mental illness is real, around us, and can happen to anyone.