The Last Survivors was released on August 4th on BluRay/DvD and is also available on VOD, including Amazon and iTunes.
As someone living in California, drought is something I have to live with every day. Luckily, however, we haven’t reached the point of post-apocalyptic desert. Yet.
The apocalyptic landscape brought upon by drought has become a popular setting in films recently — Mad Max: Fury Road and the previously reviewed Young Ones come to mind. With drought taking over swaths of the west, the idea of a collapse like this isn’t so far-fetched. Each story, while unique, has the same framework: they are stories of scare land resources, and the horrors that people perpetrate in the name of obtaining them.
The Last Survivors fits right into the current crop of apocalypse movies, giving us a sparse, stark, but ultimately rich story about one girl’s attempt to survive. Directed by Tom Hammock (production designer of You’re Next), and written by Thomas Hammock and Jacob Forman (the writers behind All The Boys Love Mandy Lane), the movie immediately places the viewers in a world that feels entirely lived in. Nothing seems false or out of place. From the way that our heroine Kendall (Haley Lu Richardson) has strategically hidden their well and food supplies, it is clear that water is something to be protected–and from the gun on her shoulder, something that is worth killing over.
She and her boyfriend Dean (Booboo Stewart) live in the well-barricaded attic of their former orphanage, listening to the world around them on radios, while trying to repair their lone hope of getting out of their barren Oregon valley: a plane with one missing part. It’s been ten years since the last rains have fallen, and it’s clear that they may not survive another year.
Besides one young boy who lives in the building near the plane, and a teenage boy from a nearby farm, viewers are rarely given a glimpse of another face, let alone a friendly one, for the first part of the film. The majority of the film focuses on Kendall–she is the sole protagonist, and we never see anything that she does not.
This sort of movie lives or dies by the capabilities of the lead and their ability to maintain a strong screen presence. In this regard, Haley’s performance as Kendall is admirable. Incredibly competent and brutal, she still shows a great deal of compassion, even in a world where kindness can get you killed. Credit has to be given to the script as well for creating a believable teenage girl who loses none of her humanity even in her strength. The viewers do not need to be told about the trauma in her life–her actions show it all. There is no need for heavy backstory exposition here.
The antagonist, beyond the simple lack of water, is a water baron, determined to suck the entire valley dry; anyone who gets in his way needs to be eliminated. He has guns, men, and the brazen brutality that makes him a force to be reckoned with.
He and Kendall play a game of cat and mouse as our heroine tries to gather enough water for Dean and the necessary part to get their plane working. It’s the suspense created in all these near-misses, near-captures, that make the final confrontation all that much sweeter.
The movie definitely has the feel of an independent feature–there aren’t any large set pieces, big explosions, or elaborate action scenes here. But in truth, there don’t need to be. With strong direction, compelling acting, and a tight script, The Last Survivors holds attention without any unnecessary bombast or melodrama.
It’s an engaging action film, and it is exciting to see a strong and complex female character survive and thrive against great odds. In a sea of post-apocalyptic films, this one stands out as a shining example of what indy films can do in the genre, regardless of budget.
Many thanks to Theresa Karasek for her editorial work on this piece.