The Last Survivors


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Last Survivors
"Richardson shines in what was her first major film role."

Before Mad Max: Fury Road came along to complicate things, one question that always troubled the post-Apocalypse film genre was what happens to the women? Not the Tank Girls, not the Aunty Entitys - the colonies we sometimes glimpse on the sidelines, skinny mothers and children huddled by the dusty roadside, rifles at the ready, in A Boy And His Dog. How do they survive? What stories are hidden among them? They, after all, are the only real hope for the future that these remnants of humanity might have.

The Last Survivors (previously known as The Well) tells one such story. This is world where rain has stopped falling. Teenager Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson) is one of the few people remaining there, guarding a hidden well and spending her days carrying jars of water to other survivors in the area. These are mostly children, hidden in ruined buildings. Sometimes, refugees stagger by; she treats them with caution. Aside from the threat of pillage - it's never clear where long-term food supplies come from - somebody in the area has been killing off survivors. All the evidence points to local land owner Carson (Jon Gries), and now he may be doing something even worse - siphoning off the water from under the valley, bleeding Kendal's well dry.

Pitting its gritty, lone protagonist against a power-hungry cartel in a bleached desert landscape, the film strays further onto western territory than many of its ilk. The colour palette in its costumes and interiors reflects this, and it eases us into a space where it's easy to take for granted the level of fighting skill Kendal displays. Rifles are the weapon of choice in this wide open landscape, but she makes good use of a hatchet and later of a Samurai sword (which she is obviously unused to) in brutal close-up scenes. Though not heavily focused on gore, the film doesn't shy away from realism in these battles, and it's another addition to the scant list of films in which female characters punch people properly.

It's a film that depends heavily on its central performance. Richardson shines in what was her first major film role, giving Kendal a roundedness rarely seen in either genre. Despite her fighting skills, her toughness and quick-wittedness, we are never invited to see her simply as 'cool'; rather, Richardson gives us a sense of a person who never loses sight of the fact that life ought to be about more than this. This strategy isn't always successful and it risks putting off some of the film's natural audience but it also gives it some substance, balancing out the slender plot. Also worth noting is the performance of young Max Charles (actually a more seasoned actor) as Alby, one of the kids Kendal tries to help.

Although it's uneven in places and leaves a lot of questions unanswered, The Last Survivors does a lot with its small budget and shows that smaller stories don't have to be dull ones.

Reviewed on: 16 May 2015
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A teenage girl fights to protect the last working well in a valley stricken by drought.

Director: Thomas S. Hammock

Starring: Haley Lu Richardson, Booboo Stewart, Michael Welch, Jon Gries, Max Charles

Year: 2014

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US


Grimmfest 2014

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