July 25, 2010

Last of the Living (2008)

Last of the Living (2008)

Director: Logan McMillan

3.5 / 5 zedheads

You can always count on New Zealand to deliver at least an entertaining zombie film. Last of the Living, written and directed by Logan McMillan, may lag a bit and feel shallow in the character department, but it has an endearing sense of style and production value that put it at the top of the heap when it comes to independent zombie films.

A group of immature young men believe they are the last of humanity after a virus that turns people into flesh-hungry zombies ravages the world. Morgan (Morgan Williams) is a vain and self-centred amateur actor, Ash (Ashleigh Southam) is a reserved worrywart, and Johnny (Robert Faith) is a wannabe rocker / fighter whose idea of a cure for the zombie plague is "KARATE!" They spend their days picking on each other, moving from mansion to mansion, and raiding grocery stores and DVD shops. One day they meet a young scientist named Stef (Emily Paddon-Brown) who enlists their help in finding a lab so she can work on a blood sample that she hopes will cure the infected.

Last of the Living is a comedy, but the laughs are fairly low-key and based in the dialog rather than the situation, and the dialog has a very clear New Zealand flavor. Although the characters are plainly stereotypical, I grew to like them and found their sarcastic banter and male posturing entertaining enough. I've laughed more at other zombie comedies, but Last of the Living thrives on its own enthusiasm. The characters also meet some unexpected fates. At several points, the characters' trajectories swerve suddenly into the bleak. Although the characters may be stereotypical, at least the filmmakers weren't content with the zombie comedy status quo.

In terms of its cinematography and production values, the film really distinguishes itself from the pack of run-of-the-mill zombie movies. An active camera and inventive shots imbue the film with energy that is lacking in the narrative. When the film's story starts to spin its wheels, at least the film looks slick. The film starts to pick up pace at the halfway mark as Morgan, Ash, Johnny, and Stef start their journey, and the audiences follows them at a good pace through various locations: abandoned cities, small townships, rural back roads, and even an air strip. Unfortunately, some of these sequences are marred by distractingly artificial CGI effects, yet the overall feel of the film is one of professionalism and variety.

My only real gripe with this film is the zombies. Thankfully, they are more than just extras stumbling around in grey face paint, yet they still aren't very scary or threatening. Last of the Living often feels more like an action/adventure film. As such, the zombies needed to be a clear and active threat, but they appear on screen in too few numbers to feel dangerous. They also don't look very scary despite the subtle makeup effects and prosthetics. Were the zombies gorier, I may have been more engaged in the scenes where our heroes flee from the undead. Also, I'm usually not a fan of zombies that run, but if any film could benefit from fast zombies then it's Last of the Living. The direction of the film, the budget, and the plot just don't work with only a handful of slow zombies in each scene.

Watching Last of the Living was not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but it's probably not a film I'd ever feel compelled to rewatch. Simple, enjoyable in the moment, and worth a few chuckles, it's a better independent zombie film than most even though it's not highly memorable.