Producers: Sunil Perkash, Akaash Yadav, Michael Jefferson, Wesley Hull and Shaun Sanghani Director: Drew Mylrea Screenplay: Josh Janowicz Cast: Drew Van Acker, Alicia Silverstone, Stephen Moyer, Mark Famiglietti, Benjamin Arthur, Akaash Yadav and Simon Lees Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Perhaps to make up for their unfortunate stab at comedy with 2020’s “Spy Intervention,” director Drew Mylrea and star Drew Van Acker go for something quite different in this thriller about a father and son who have gone off the grid in the Montana high country but react in disparate ways when their solitude is shattered. “Last Survivors” has problems, especially in the last act, which is clumsily staged and overly pat, but it’s bolstered by good performances and a solid plot twist.
Van Acker is Jake Belstair, a young man who’s been raised for some two decades by his father Troy (Stephen Moyer) in an isolated cabin in Montana. The scenario is a post-apocalyptic one: Troy took the boy there after a third world war had caused societal chaos, and has taught him the survivalist skills that protect them against dangerous outsiders who might trespass on their heavily-defended homestead.
Despite the isolation, Jake has grown into a confident young man well versed in hunting and fishing, but entirely dependent on his father’s counsel, which he follows without question; though in his mid-twenties, he’s still childlike in his devotion and his attitudes. (The book he cherishes is “Swiss Family Robinson.”)
Yet doubts are beginning to nag at him. From items he’s scavenged over the years—an old National Geographic, for example—he’s begun to wonder about the outside, and when a hunter (Simon Lees) trips their detection devices and Troy goes off to deal with him, a crisis occurs. It’s Jake who witnesses the man’s final words, and he’s haunted by them. Moreover Troy’s been seriously injured in the encounter, and his wound becomes infected. Since their supply of antibiotics has run out, Jake has to venture beyond the parameters of their camp to get medicine. That will be a turning-point, since it brings him in contact with Henrietta (Alicia Silverstone), who has also isolated herself from the outside world on a farm. Becoming acquainted with her challenges the worldview Jake has learned from Troy.
It wouldn’t be fair to reveal exactly how that happens, or what the ramifications are for each of the three characters. Suffice it to say that all of them have to face reality, and it’s difficult for each to do, though the challenges vary from one to the other. What results is often melodramatic—and not in a good sense (one’s tempted to say that the original title “SHTF,” after the “emergency” folder Troy’s created, is not inappropriate here)—and a finale that brings all three together is ineptly staged by Mylrea (and confusingly edited by Bradley McLaughlin). (A detail about a defensive mechanism that Jake’s helped Henrietta construct is particularly irritating.) A coda, moreover, is both rushed and unconvincing.
And yet the film holds your interest despite the flaws. At thirty-five Van Acker may be too old for Jake, but the actor evinces a boyish demeanor that suits the character, and he registers the emotional changes he goes through convincingly. And while Moyer has some trouble navigating Troy’s shifts, Silverstone is quite convincing as Henrietta, though the character’s motives are muddled. On the technical side, Sam Neidenbach’s production design is persuasively rustic, while Julián Amaru Estrada’s cinematography makes good use of the genuinely chilly Montana locales. David Deutsch’s score, however, tends to be overbearing.
With a bit more polishing of the script and greater care in execution at the close, “Last Survivors” could have been a low-budget winner. As it is though the ending disappoints, what precedes it has some real strengths, not least the performances by Van Acker and Silverstone.