The Last Survivors Movie Review
Written by Giuseppe Infante
Released by Dark Sky Films
Directed by Thomas S. Hammock
Written by Jacob Forman and Thomas S. Hammock
2014, 94 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray | DVD | VOD released on August 4th, 2015
Haley Lu Richardson as Kendal
Jon Gries as Carson
Booboo Stewart as Dean
Max Charles as Alby
Nicole Fox as Brooke
Michael Massee as Walker
Thomas S. Hammock's directorial debut, The Last Survivors, is a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated dystopian genre. With recent films adapted from novels like Divergent, Ender's Game, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and the latest revivals in the Planet of the Apes and Mad Max series, among many, many more movies, some stand taller than the others. But we've either seen these unoriginal tales before or there is no essence to the films, most likely because of them being Hollywood dookies. And while the The Last Survivors lacks Hollywood blockbuster finances, it has quality filmmaking missing from many of those big-budget movies. The artists that crafted the film put obvious love and devotion into the creating their vision and it succeeds on many levels.
In The Last Survivors, we are presented with a dried up future. It has been a decade since the last rainfall, and society has dried up- literally. The story follows our protagonist Kendal, a teenage girl caring for her sick friend Dean. They remember when the fields were nourished in rice patties and they used to catch frogs, but now their dwelling is a decrepit farmhouse in their desiccated town among the Oregon valley. A hole in the wall is where they hide from the ruthless Carson and his gang of degenerates. They are the antagonists who shook the township down for their land and water. After all the townspeople are either killed or brought to concentration camps, Kendal can only scrape by out of sight for so long.
Haley Lu Richardson brought the character of Kendal to life. I was vested in her survival to the very end of the movie. There was never a moment I was in disbelief, even with her badass stealth and fighting skills. Thriving in a wasteland for so long builds skills normal teenagers don't have, like wielding a shotgun for most of your day. Richarson was spot on, never being too arrogant or too fragile, finding the fine line between. The other characters are authentic. Jon Gries (Taken, Napoleon Dynamite) plays the role of Carson with the wickedness of a mafia don. Carson's sidekicks are his daughter, Brooke, and a psycho-priest, and it's an exceptionally unique idea. Hearing the priest, or Father Walker rather, speak in a eulogistic manner adds depth in contrast to seeing him execute people. Rather than two random stooges, we have a "man of God" and the heir to the water mafia throne. Max Charles as the child Alby is interesting to watch on screen. Knowing Alby is living on his own in this hellish world and the way he genuinely looks tattered really captures the essence of humanity. You really sympathize for this kid. The character roles and the actors playing them make the film feel realistic.
One of the most important parts of this movie being successful is the set design and location. Filming in the Mojave Desert makes for the movie's visual appeal. There are abandoned and deteriorating buildings in the valley, which add to the wasteland look. Also, it is important to note while setting the stage, there is a rowboat in the middle of this desert terrain. The juxtaposition or placing of that, rather than any other object, is significant. It triggers a part of the brain that connects to water, the number one commodity necessary for survival and catalyst to Carson's motives. The prop could have been of an old car upside down, or ransacked farm equipment, but we get this faded rowboat.
The score drifts along with visual imagery representing dread and sorrow. You feel the music jumping to heights at times and lowering the pace when capturing what life is like for Kendal and the others. There is this echo resonance throughout the film that adds a ghastly chill, especially when Kendal is staking out and spying. When there is no music, you hear all the sounds that help build tension.
There are some superb action scenes, gorier than your standard Hollywood action flick, which is part of the horror element. We see some hand-to-hand combat, up-close gunshots, and a katana - but don't expect a Kill Bill massacre. The story grasps you so often, that there is no need for gore and blood to spill all over the screen. Though there are parts you are left wondering about, it gives a sense of ambiguity. Not everything is, or needs to be, revealed in order for a story to be successful, giving plenty to analyze and discuss.
I'm a sucker for a slow-burn piece of horror cinema. This movie nails pacing, mixing of genres and casting. Composed of part western, part horror, part drama, part thriller and part art house, The Last Survivors covers a lot of bases. This is indie horror done right. This movie isn't Saw, The Exorcist or Maniac, so don't expect torture porn, ghost stories or a slasher flick. Expect a unique story about a dystopian future, which may not be too far off from our reality.
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