Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Last Girl Standing (2015)

Five years ago, Camryn (Akasha Villalobos) had been the final survivor of a group of friends encountering a slasher later dubbed The Hunter (Jason Vines) who did what slashers love to do. In the end, Camryn (and good luck) managed to kill the Hunter.

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise Camryn never really got over an ordeal that has left her very much alone and damaged. In the now of the film, she’s suffering from PTSD and is barely managing to make the way out of her front door to her job as one of the cleaners in a dry cleaner. Things like a social life, relationships or just a night’s sleep without nightmares are still beyond her.

One would hope for her the arrival of hipster-haired new cashier Nick (Brian Villalobos) in whom she is clearly interested would improve Camryn’s personal situation a little. Unfortunately, at about the same time Nick arrives, the Hunter seems to return, too. At least, Camryn sees him and feels threatened by him, though she’s the only one who does see him. She becomes convinced Nick and his assortment of mildly deepened slasher movie cliché friends and roommates just might have to suffer the same fate as her own friends did years ago.

Up until its final act, I was very happy with Benjamin R. Moody’s Last Girl Standing. After the intro in form of a pretty traditional slasher movie final girl sequence (if with a final girl that isn’t particularly active), the film quickly turns into a typical US indie movie about a damaged young woman who might just perhaps get some sort of chance for an actual life with added psychological thriller tension. That alone already is an unexpected surprise from a film whose basic idea threatens yet another meta-slasher that is more about commenting on other movies and excusing all one’s own failings through “irony” than having an identity of its own.

Even more pleasant was my surprise when the film went to great lengths to treat Camryn’s PTSD as more than a gimmick, with more than one scene that rang truer than usual when it comes to that particular illness. It’s clear the film is willing to take its time and space to get into the head of its main character, even when that means choosing a slow pace and only putting on its thriller hat when it’s appropriate. Thanks to a strong cast – particularly Villalobos, Danielle Evon Ploeger as one of Nick’s room mates, and the male Villalobos – the character scenes in an indie horror movie for once feel like actual human beings interacting instead of semi-professional actors declaiming their dialogue.

Unfortunately, that whole psychological care goes right out of the window when the final act goes for the most obvious (and pretty damn boring) solution to its plot. For no better reason, it seems, than that this wants to be a horror film, so it’s gotta go for the pointless bloody mess. Gone are the empathetic treatment of someone with a mental illness, gone is the thoughtfulness, and all that is left is the usual – if competently filmed – “crazy people are murderers!” stuff. Which are all things I’d accept quite a bit more readily in a film that did not for most of its running time demonstrate it does indeed know better. Sometimes, going the obvious route one’s chosen genre pushes one in is just the wrong decision, and it most certainly is here.

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