Exclusive Review: THE LAST SURVIVORS (2015){0}

Genre enthusiasts certainly enjoy a good apocalypse. Zombies are a pretty cool way to end the world, plus we also have some vampire and robot angles worth enjoying, but what’s wrong with a plain old (even eerily banal) sort of apocalypse? No zombies or vampires or robots (oh my) but just a stark and simple shift in Mother Nature’s plan? Surely that’s scary enough without all the metaphor-laden monsters banging on the doors.
Simple dehydration is the name of the endgame in the downbeat yet consistently compelling indie thriller The Last Survivors (formerly known as The Well) and what the film lacks in “slam-bang” horror mayhem, it makes up for in a calmly ominous tone that strikes a cool balance between sci-fi, horror, legitimate tragedy, and (ok, fine) some decent “hero vs. villain” ass-kicking in Act III. Co-written by Jacob Forman (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) and directed by prolific production designer turned newbie director Tom Hammock, The Last Survivors is sort of a slow burn set in a blazing heat wave, which is meant as a compliment to the screenplay, the players, the editing, and the eye-poppingly gritty cinematography all at the same time. (I do like to be efficient.)

Since The Last Survivors is not exactly a plot-heavy affair, let’s just say it’s about a heroic, crafty, and refreshingly vulnerable young woman (an excellent Haley Lu Richardson) who does all she can to protect her few remaining loved ones – and their nearly-depleted well – from not only random interlopers but also a bloodthirsty bastard (the always cool Jon Gries) who believes he owns the whole desolate valley. Every person alive is a competitor for Carson’s precious water, and let’s just say he’s not shy about eliminating the competition.

Aside from Ms. Richardson’s consistently great work (and Mr. Gries’ wonderful villainy), this post-apocalyptic western thriller has small but valuable contributions from indie/genre veterans Boo Boo Stewart, Barbara Crampton,and Michael Massee, as well as from relative newcomers Michael Welch and Nicole Fox. Craig Deleon’s score brings a “wide-scale” feel to a low-budget production, and the production design is wonderfully sparse and low-key, but the star of The Last Survivors is probably cinematographer Seamus Tierney. Even the biggest detractor of this film will have to admit that it plays with light, shadows, and an omnipresent sense of arid heat to a masterful degree.

Fortunately there’s a lot more to like about The Last Survivors than just some fantastic cinematography. Although slightly reminiscent of recent “indie apocalypse” films like Carriers (2009) and Aftermath (2014), The Last Survivors is a refreshingly novel take on a rather oft-told tale. That it juggles multiple genres is pretty cool; that it also brings a bit of heart, wit, and intelligence to an oft-told tale is what makes it so impressive.

Scott Weinberg