Posted in Buckners reviews by Neal at 04:25, May 23 2022
The Last Victim (2021) – a feature film review by Andrew Buckner
With no bodies to be recovered and only blood-spattered remnants remaining, Sheriff Hickey (in a knockout portrayal from Ron Perlman) investigates a crime that took place inside a local small-town diner. Unbeknownst to him, the ruthless felons who are responsible for this ghastly act of violence have fled into the maze-like wilderness of New Mexico. Hoping to have lost anyone who may be pursuing them, the bandits engage in a battle for survival with a woman, Susan (Ali Larter), they encounter by chance in the isolated, outside terrain. All the while, Sheriff Hickey follows a trail of clues and begins to close-in on said crooks.
Such is the familiar sounding, but compelling and confidently structured plot of the debut feature from director Naveen A. Chathapuram, The Last Victim (2021). The 111-minute picture opens with a near 15-minute segment of the previously stated double murder that brilliantly establishes its no-nonsense neo-western attitude. With its sharply penned and enigmatic tough-talk-oriented dialogue from screenwriter Ashley James Louis, who worked from a story by Chathapuram and Doc Justin, the project immediately evokes the boldest and most iconic traits of its sub-genre. The gruff-voiced narration, expertly orchestrated mood of darkness, and impending barbarity that transpires in this commencing section echoes these attributes. Another of these timeless categorical components is the capacity for the brooding, stellar performances on-screen to say much more via facial expressions than the central personas’ mere words. Such anticipated factors are also marvelously explored throughout the entirety of the effort.
In another exhibition of these oft-applied threads, the film deliberately employs broadly, but sufficiently, developed leads. All of whom have stock personalities. This mechanizes nicely with the material. The only trouble area in this arena encompasses Sheriff Hickey and his comparatively timid partner, Deputy Mindy Gaboon (in a likable depiction from Camille Legg). Their back-and-forth banter, while comical at times, is so standard that it creates a disservice to the rest of the production. The same assessment can be derived from the exposition that is teased from their speech.
Regardless, such qualms are easily forgiven. This is when one considers the intensity, whether visible or raging like a fire just below the surface, that rarely wavers throughout the account. The article is just as deft at building anxiety through relatively miniscule items, such as a severed finger that is uncovered in the first act, that incessantly re-enters the proceedings. These are all signposts of the high-caliber taletelling at hand.
Another strong point are the final moments of the undertaking. They are an emotional powerhouse that dares to contemplate the toll of revenge, which is smartly foreshadowed in a quote from Rev. Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) in the beginning seconds of the flick, from both involved parties.
Though the climactic third act is overlong and could use some tightening, this portion also cleverly utilizes several different meanings of the title reference. There is also a genuinely surprising twist that is unveiled around the ninety-minute mark. Such facets make this consistently engrossing and more-often-than-not well paced composition evermore admirable.
From a technical perspective, the exercise is also adroitly executed. The earthy cinematography from Lukasz Pruchnik is striking. It makes the most of the natural beauty of the outdoor surroundings that are prominent in the piece. The music from Darren Morze finely reiterates the tone of the arrangement. John Chimples’ editing is proficient. The visual effects, sound, costume design, and makeup all enhance the immersive and rugged authenticity of the endeavor. Furthermore, the classically stylish guidance of the vehicle from Chathapuram suits the old-fashioned charm of the venture.
Larter is excellent as Susan. It’s a role that requires her to be both sensitive and confrontational. She masterfully achieves this duality. Relatedly, Ralph Ineson is commanding as the head of the band of deadly convicts, Jake. The numerous episodes where Susan and Jake play a lethal game of cat and mouse with one another, particularly in the midsection, are among the many bright spots of the presentation. In these sequences, the stature of their representations as well as the continual suspense the demonstration fluently implements are equally perceptible.
Chathapuram has crafted a terrific photoplay. It rigorously holds onto the expected conventions of its type. Yet, it is nonetheless enthralling. The action is taut, never overdone, and dazzlingly choreographed. Additionally, the more dramatic instances are just as realistic and effective. In turn, The Last Victim is a layered, thoughtful, and satisfying dose of gritty cinematic pulp fiction.
The Last Victim receives **** out of ***** on The Buckner Scale.