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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Horror DVD Of The Week: Last Stop (2014)


AAAARRRGGGHHH!!! How is this allowed to happen? Last Stop (aka Don't Blink, in the States) is all set-up and no ending. This is a mystery film without an answer to the mystery. It's Lost all over again!

A large part of my annoyance comes from the fact that the build-up is so good. Writer/director Travis Oates takes the stock horror cliché of friends arriving at an isolated cabin and weird shit happening to them, and puts a post-modern spin on it by making the friends likeable characters, who react like real people, and actually discuss what's going on.

Sure, there's the usual cliché that it's all going down in an area with no cellphone coverage and the cabin they're staying in is at the end of a long drive that required an entire tank of petrol to get there, but these are addressed and dealt with. Had the weirdness not gone down, neither of these points would have even been an issue.

The group of 20-somethings are heading into the mountains to stay at an isolated lodge, but when they arrive there's nobody around, no staff to check in with, no other guests, and a car park full of abandoned cars.

As they try and figure out what's going on - behaving as though the scenario is genuine and not a horror movie set-up - they realise that there are also no birds or insects in the surrounding area, and despite the warmth at the lodge, a nearby lake is frozen solid.

Then, one of the group disappears, and then another, and the chaos sets in.

Because the characters behave convincingly, the panic and disintegration of the group dynamic is all the more engrossing.

While there are no flashy special effects, a couple of the vanishings are incredibly well executed, and it's totally believable when cracks start to appear in the psyche of some of the group.

Part of the appeal to me, knowing very little about this film before I picked up the DVD (it was an Amazon Recommendation), was its intriguing trailer and solid TV star cast, particularly Mena Suvari (from South Of Hell), Brian Austin Green (of Beverley Hills 90210, Smallville, and The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and Joanne Kelly (of Warehouse 13).

Unfortunately as the tension continued to mount into the movie's final act, Brian Austin Green's Jack prophetically says at one point: "I don't want to know what's going on, I just want it to be over." It was at that point, with only minutes remaining on the clock, that I suddenly realised we weren't going to get any answers and my heart sank.

Oates' script is much better on the characters' personal arcs and maintaining a convincing truth to their reactions to events, than keeping the mysterious occurrences within any kind of established coherent framework.

In a very Doctor Who-like plot development, people are warned "don't blink", as characters disappear when no one is looking at them, but then that doesn't hold up when only one character remainis at the end... because no one was looking at them!

And what was the point of the frozen lake and sudden snow falls (which reminded me of the equally promising and equally frustrating faux reality TV show Siberia)?

Even the tag line on the DVD cover - "The Place Between The Living And The Dead" - is utterly meaningless as there is nothing whatsoever in Last Stop to suggest that the goings-on are connected to the afterlife or anything supernatural.

In fact, there's a cameo appearance at the end from a familiar face to genre TV addicts that suggests maybe some kind of X-Files/extraterrestrial scenario, but, honestly, who knows? I'm not sure the writer/director knows, so what hope for the rest of us?

But what I can't understand is why somebody in authority, whoever signed the cheques maybe, didn't take a look at this film and say: "Where's the ending? Don't you think you should give me the paying audience at least a clue as to what is going on?"

It's so frustrating because up until the non-existent ending, Last Stop is a brilliant sci-fi thriller, subverting a lot of direct-to-DVD tropes by making its protagonists smart and relatable, their banter spot-on and funny.

Just watch the trailer below and you'll have just as much idea of what's going on as I have, having sat through the film. It might not contain all the film's best bits, but the entire plot is there, and it even features the 'surprise' cameo I was being so coy about above...

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