The Day Shall Come is a second feature from British satirist Chris Morris and like the first, Four Lions, it is a ‘comedy of terrors’, you could say. But this time, rather than a group of hapless home-grown Muslim suicide bombers we’ve decamped to America and it’s the FBI that will do anything to get their man even if that man is harmless and insists that God speaks to him through a duck. It is funny, fitfully, but it asks us to laugh at someone I wasn’t sure we should be laughing at, plus it is repetitive and acts like we didn’t get the joke the first time, when we did. Or, at least, I did. You may be slower-witted, of course.
This is based on ‘a hundred true stories’, say the opening credits, which should rightly put the fear of God into you. (I don’t have the space to go into Chris Morris’s research, but look up the 2006 case of a ‘religious army’ planning to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower.) Here, our main character is Moses (Marchant Davis), who lives in the Miami projects and is a self-proclaimed preacher and leader of a mission that has an army. Of four. Yes, he wants to halt white gentrification and overthrow the government but he also has other, more important items on his agenda, like worshipping ‘Black Santa’, worrying about the CIA’s ability to summon dinosaurs with trumpets and hearing what his duck has to say.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town you have the FBI who have just messed up a sting and need to recover their reputation. Or, as one suit puts it: ‘Pitch me the next 9/11!’ One particularly ambitious agent, Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick), spots Moses on social media preaching about ‘brotherhood’ and kicks off a manic series of events to prove he is dangerous. Moses is, in fact, anti-violence and anti-guns but before long she has him accepting money from shady Middle Eastern dudes (who are FBI set-ups) and buying weapons and uranium and hanging out with undercover cops posing as neo-Nazis.
The film is directed by Morris and co-written with Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, for television, and also Succession, which is mighty), and there are laughs. One cop says of another: ‘He’s racist, but one of the good ones.’ The cover line on an al-Qaeda magazine reads: ‘Make Warheads from Cookie Dough.’ But this is played as a wild, slapstick farce rather than as biting satire. There’s the occasional tonal shift, as when Kendra realises the wrongness of what she’s put in motion yet doesn’t know how to stop it. But mostly it’s the same thing over and over as Moses becomes ever more beleaguered. Perhaps it is Davis’s fault for bringing so much sweet vulnerability to Moses’s character, but after a while you do start to worry: am I laughing at him? Am I laughing at a mentally unwell fella with delusions? Is this what’s making me so uneasy? At one point, his wife looks pointedly at the medication he should be taking but isn’t.
In my view, you can make fun of anything so long as it’s funny enough. But if you start feeling uncomfortable, then it isn’t sufficiently funny. But that’s just my view and other views are available. I can only tell you that I left the cinema wishing that Morris had unleashed his considerable firepower on a target more worthy. Like Donald Trump, say. Because who wouldn’t want to see that?