Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Ali Larter, Ron Perlman, Ralph Ineson, Camille Legg, Gregory Fawcett, Matt Brown, Paul Belsito, Kyle Schmid, Tahmoh Penikett, Dakota Daulby, Tom Stevens
Written by: Ashley James Louis
Directed by: Naveen A. Chathapuram
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 111
Date: 05/13/2022
IMDB

The Last Victim (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Trigger Finger

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A neo-Western with a bit of a bite, this crime drama gives its melange of fascinating characters — and, amazingly, the audience — credit for being smart enough to follow its twisty checkerboard jumps.

Nihilist Jake (Ralph Ineson) enters a Bar-B-Que joint and confronts Manny (Tom Stevens) about some transgression involving Jake's ex-wife. The exchange, unexpectedly, ends in a bloodbath. Jake and his men drag the bodies away, accidentally leaving behind a finger.

As Sheriff Hickey (Ron Perlman) and Deputy Gaboon (Camille Legg) begin investigating, an anthropology professor, Susan (Ali Larter), her husband Richard (Tahmoh Penikett) and their dog, Waldo, are driving cross-country to Susan's new job. Richard insists that they see the sights along the way, and they wind up at the very nature preserve where Jake and his men are dumping the bodies. Susan finds herself in the harsh wilderness, alone, fighting for her life.

Set entirely in micro-size towns in New Mexico, The Last Victim has a vivid atmosphere, all dust and clomping boots. Interestingly, the movie is narrated by its villain, Jake, who sprinkles his bits of hopelessness and meaninglessness throughout the story, but also providing a springboard to make the fight to survive all the more worthwhile. Susan is introduced meticulously checking things off a "to-do" list — including "wake up" — suggesting that she has a steel-trap brain. She balks at anything unscheduled, and she's not one for relaxing.

Then, Sheriff Hickey and Deputy Gaboon enjoy a deadpan banter, often talking about things that have nothing to do with the plot, like that time Dale did that thing with the files on his desk. The Sheriff is a slow, lumbering giant and the Deputy's a cheeky thing with short-cropped hair and huge round glasses that give her the face of a friendly tortoise.

The movie's cat-and-mouse chase across the wilderness is perhaps less interesting than its characters; it doesn't establish distance or space as well as movies like Desierto or The Aviary, and some lackluster "needle-drop" songs tend to soften the mood. But never fear, The Last Victim has a few great things in store during its final act, including a powerful coda that elevates it above its dark philosophies (and its dark title) and into something more empathic.

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