Producers: Vicky Gong, Shaun Sanghani, Todd Berger, Naveen A. Chathapuram, Graem Luis, Nicholas Burnett, Luke Daniels, Joseph Lanius, Charles Leslie and Frank Li Director: Naveen A. Chathapuram Screenplay: Ashley James Louis Cast: Ari Larter, Ralph Ineson, Tahmon Penikett, Ron Perlman, Kyle Schmid, Dakota Daulby, Camille Legg, Paul Belsito, Tom Stevens, Gregory Fawcett, Trish Allen, Matt Brown and Luna Distributor: Decal
Naveen A. Chathapuram’s debut feature strives to capture the multi-layered neo-Western mood that the work of Taylor Sheridan has recently made so popular on screens big and small, but comes up short. “The Last Victim” is no “Hell or High Water.”
It does, however, give Ron Perlman the chance to grumble sarcastically as Herman Hickey, the gruff sheriff of a desolate and depopulated stretch of New Mexico desert faced with solving a multiple murder at a roadside dive. The bodies have been removed, but lots of blood remains, along with finger left behind from one of the victims.
The identity of the perpetrator is a mystery to Hickey, but not to the viewer, who has witnessed the massacre at the very start of the picture. The killer was tough, nasty Jake (Ralph Ineson), who shot a nervous fellow named Manny (Tom Stevens), with whom he had some bad history, as well as the waitress (Trish Allen), who was not only a witness but had had the temerity to tell him to put out his cigarette. Also killed is a friend of Manny’s (Budge Winters), who intervenes after shooting Jake’s partner Monroe (Matt Brown). Jake and his bumptious remaining helper Snoopy (Paul Belsito) then drag the bodies to their truck, leaving behind blood trails as well as Monroe’s pesky finger, sheared off when Jake slams the trunk door on his hand.
Jake and Snoopy then take the corpses out to a trailer occupied by two brothers, grumpy Bull (Kyle Schmid) and nervous Tad (Dakota Daulby). Bull helps Jake and Snoopy dispose of them on a closed nature preserve nearby.
Unbeknownst to them, though, a young couple—Susan and Richard Orden (Ali Larter and Tahmon Penikett), who are on the way to the university where she’s preparing, after surviving a traumatic experience, to take up a position in the anthropology department—make a detour to the preserve and enter it with their darling little dog Waldo (Luna) despite the signs. Naturally they will encounter Jake and his pals, with unfortunate results, and Susan is left alone to try to survive their pursuit of her.
Meanwhile Hickey and his laid-back deputy Mindy Gaboon (Camille Legg)—the other deputy, Dan (Gregory Fawcett) being a lazy layabout—follow the leads doggedly, pausing periodically for archly corny conversation. They will eventually confront Tad at the brothers’ trailer, and find their way to the nature preserve where Susan is on the run but not without resources of her own.
“The Last Victim” has some good moments, but is mostly hobbled by miscalculation. The pace is pretty lugubrious (John Chimples edited solemnly), and Jake’s periodic voiceovers. in which he bemoans the meaninglessness of life and emptiness of the universe, are laughably ponderous musings. Perlman’s hulking sleepiness seems more indicative of boredom than a Columbo-like intellect at work, while the ditzy demeanor assigned to Legg comes across as a pale reflection of Marge Gunderson. The villains are a fairly dull lot, and while Larter is up to the physical demands of her role, the character itself has little depth.
To be fair, the script does have bits that keep you on your toes—there’s that finger, for instance, and later a pistol that’s been tampered with becomes the key at a tense moment. But the big twists in the last reel—one involving Deputy Gaboon, the other Tad—are forced, as if the makers thought it necessary to shoot for the stars but could only come up with blanks. And the Canadian-shot picture looks pretty chintzy: the production design (Kathy McCoy) is ragged, and Lukasz Pruchnik’s cinematography bland. A spare score by Darren Morze fails to energize things much.
It’s easy to see the target “The Last Victim” is aiming for; unfortunately, it’s far from a bull’s-eye.