Most of us, even if we don’t wanna admit it, enjoy a good ol’ hack ‘n’ slash every now and then — I know I do. Between the likes of Michael and Jason, and even less celebrated names like Harry Warden, Madman Marz, or Cropsey, the allure of watching the standard group of young adults get picked off in creative ways is sometimes the only thing that will scratch that horror itch. Almost universally, slasher flicks always boil down to that one famous Final Girl — the one who, because of her virtue (or more likely the fact that she’s not drug-addled, drunk, or focused on some guy) is able to outsmart, escape, and at times even defeat the typically masked and silent killer.
But what then? We’ve had glimpses in the past (Adrienne King’s Alice in her solitary existence in Friday the 13th Part II, Jamie Leigh Curtis’ portrayal of the long-suffering Laurie Strode in Halloween H20, etc.), but there aren’t a lot of exploratory films that look at the life of that “final girl” after the bodies have been cleared, the police have left, the physical wounds have healed, and she’s left alone in the dark with her memories.
Last Girl Standing, the first feature film by writer/director Benjamin R. Moody, does just that — following the lone survivor of a campground slaughter into her own private hell.
Camryn lives alone in a sparsely furnished apartment, with no social life — no life at all, for that matter — outside of her work at a cleaners/laundromat, where she keeps her distance from her co-workers, seeming very callous and unfriendly.
You see, Camryn was the sole survivor of the rampage of the killer that newspapers dubbed “The Hunter” — on a camping trip unfortunately near his “hunting grounds”, all of her friends were brutally murdered by the mask-wearing psychopath, and only by ending his life was a traumatized Camryn able to make her escape. That was five years ago, and she doesn’t seem to have adjusted in the manner that most psychologists would deem ideal — the obvious paranoia and deep-seated fear brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder seems to rule her life. Still, when handsome nice-guy Nick begins working at the cleaners, she grudgingly begins to come out of her shell with him and his tight circle of friends. However, the closer she becomes to the group, the greater her fears of losing them to a psychotic rampage grows — and as time goes on, it would seem that what she once dismissed as the imaginings of her paranoid mind just might be more than she wants to believe…because the times she thinks she hears “The Hunter” breathing behind her shower curtain or spots him watching her become more threatening…more real…
This film begins where the slashers we mentioned typically end; the film then becomes a much more character-driven exercise that we expect from our horror. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing — seeing what kind of living hell Camryn’s life is still, five years after the horrific events, is interesting. The story shows us how something as simple as your own shower curtain can present a mind-numbing, paralyzing fear to someone who has suffered such pain.
Akasha Villalobos, in the role of Camryn, I think does a very admirable job showcasing the tightly-held fear and emotions that her character is feeling. Likewise to the rest of the cast — everyone does well with what they have (although it only takes one a moment to realize that Nick’s group of friends is once more the stereotypical group of slasher fodder). The problem that I had with the story was that none of this characterization was really that deep — only in the case of Danielle (played by Danielle Evan Ploeger) was there any real exploration of layers of the role, even more so in some ways than Camryn herself. There’s also a couple of annoying plot devices that seem a bit contrived — one example: Camryn winds up having what looks to be the complete police case files on the Hunter’s rampage — the “how” did she get these is only overwhelmed by the “why” would she want them?
The shooting of the film was well done, although very pragmatic — there wasn’t a lot of innovation in the camera work, but I think the simplistic style fit well for the kind of flick that it is. The last act of the film brings out some very nice goodies in the FX department, all done practically and very well, at that. In my case, however, the predictability of the ending (there was really, about mid-way through the second reel, only one way that it could go) put something of a damper on the excitement of the slasher-ish third act.
Still, I hasten to mention that I didn’t think this was a bad film — on the contrary, considering this is the first time that I personally have seen a film with this much of it’s focus on the subject of “what happens after the credits roll?”, I thought it was a pretty admirable effort — especially considering it’s a first feature for Moody. Are there things that could have been done better? Well sure — but there are precious few films where that statement isn’t also true.
If you’re looking for a typical hack ‘n’ slash ride, you won’t find it here — only the last reel has any of that. The film overall does a good job of building up suspense and apprehension, however, leading you to that last act of carnage while trying to broach the question of what becomes of such a survivor. If that’s something you could get behind, I think Last Girl Standing is worth the watch. Though I didn’t love it, I certainly didn’t hate it.
My two cents.