Last Of The Living

Director: Logan McMillan  
Morgan Williams, Robert Faith, Ashleigh Southam

Although over the years I have been contacted by a few people who assisted in some way to make the many movies I have reviewed, the vast majority of the time I don't hear from the directors. I think it's very likely a sizable number of directors have at least gone to my web site and read my reviews of their movies. Sometimes I wonder what the directors thought during the cases when I gave their movie a bad review. I'm sure one thing they feel in those instances is that they don't feel like they deserve a bad review because of all the hard work they put into their movie. I can understand those specific feelings, because over the years I have learned that movie making is an extremely hard task. Even if you are working for one of the major Hollywood studios, the things that you and the other people working on your movie have to do are Herculean tasks. In the major Hollywood studio system, the movie often starts with an idea that a producer has. The producer then has to look among the thousands of Hollywood screenwriters to find the right one to bring his or her idea to life. Even if the chosen screenwriter comes up with a good script, the struggle to make a good movie isn't over. If it hasn't already happened at this point, the producer then has to sell the movie idea to a willing studio. After that, the producer and his associated studio have to look around Hollywood for key people. The right director has to be found, which can be tough because every director has his own idea as to how a movie should be directed. In most cases, you also have to find bankable movie stars that will help sell the movie to a potential audience. And often even the less stellar movie stars will demand changes to the project before they will sign on.

The potential problems just go on from that point. The studios have to hire hundreds of more people from electricians to caterers. Even when everything is settled and filming starts, there are potential problems that can come up, from bad weather to illness. Seeing all the challenges that are out there for major Hollywood studios, it's amazing that any entertaining movies actually get made. As many potential problems that are out there for the major Hollywood studios, it can be even worse for certain kinds of independent filmmakers. No, I am not talking about filmmakers like Richard Linklater who have the support of independent film companies, though I am sure filmmakers like him have challenges when making their movies. I am talking about real independents, people who one day decide to pick up a camera and make something in their own back yard or neighborhood. They have some extraordinary challenges. Raising money for their productions is an obvious obstacle; they can't exactly expect a bank to open their vault for a first time filmmaker. Even if money is raised, it usually isn't a sizable amount, which means it will be harder for the filmmaker to put visual "oomph" in their movie. Then there are problems like getting a screenplay. It's unlikely someone in the mid-western United States could expect results from putting an ad in the local paper for a screenwriter, especially since they probably couldn't pay a lot. Most times the director has to write his or her own screenplay, and there are very few people talented enough to be good at directing as well as writing. I am sure you can think of additional problems for the real independent filmmaker as he or she goes on to make a movie, like the struggle to secure permits to shoot on location, or dealing with temperamental actors who could walk away at any moment because the filmmakers are unable to get them to sign contracts because they are paid little to nothing.

Despite obstacles like these, there are a number of movies made by these real independent filmmakers in North America and other countries every year. However, their fate after completion is usually not that great. A great many of these movies never get seen anywhere. A precious few may turn up at a Last Of The Livingfilm festival, then disappear afterwards and are never seen again. Only a select few make it to DVD. The movie I am reviewing here, Last Of The Living, is one of the few real independent movies to get a legitimate DVD release. It has an interesting story behind it. According to my research, 90% of the movie was shot on a budget of only five thousand dollars. With the footage that was shot, a trailer was made and placed on the Internet. It attracted enough interest that the rights to distribute the finished movie were sold for forty thousand dollars, and with that money the movie was completed. I couldn't help but be interested that they were able to sell the movie with just five thousand dollars invested, so I decided to give the finished movie a spin in my DVD player. The setting of the events of the movie is New Zealand. We soon learn that somewhere in the world, a deadly virus was released and soon spread world wide. The virus has resulted in the world being overrun by your classic flesh-eating zombies that can turn the uninfected to zombie status with just one bite. While you think that this situation would be a pressing one for any human survivor, New Zealand survivors Ash (Southam), Johnny (Faith), and Morgan (Williams) don't seem to mind at all. In fact, they seem to be greatly enjoying themselves with no responsibilities like jobs, and raiding various stores and homes for stuff to comfort them. One day, during one of their raids, they stumble upon two other uninfected survivors. They are Stef (Emily Paddon-Brown), who is a scientist, accompanied by her father (Mark Hadlow of The Hobbit trilogy). Stef tells the three slackers that she knows about a secret serum that can possibly reverse the zombie virus. However, the serum is located at a hospital not only some distance away, but completely surrounded by zombies. And even if they get the serum, they still have to travel to an island which has the people who can put the serum into effect. Despite these great odds, Ash, Johnny, and Morgan agree to help Stef and her father - though the likelihood that it's because Stef is one hot woman seems greater than any feelings they have for saving the human race.

I am pretty sure I know the first question that came to your mind when I started to talk about Last Of The Living in the previous paragraph. It happened to also be the question that first popped into my mind when I learned about the movie and did research on it. That question of course is, "What were the filmmakers able to accomplish with such a small budget of forty-five thousand dollars?" After having watched the movie, I can answer that question with a definite answer: Quite a bit more than you may be expecting. For one thing, this movie isn't content to stay on one or two locations. The movie travels to homes, various retail stores, hospitals, churches, the downtown core of what appears to be a fairly large city, the countryside, and the open ocean. It's not only the vast variety of locations that is impressive, but also how they are shown. We see deserted streets and important buildings, which gets one to wonder how the filmmakers were able to get such shots with no one else around. Yes, the seams do show occasionally with the sight of a pedestrian or a moving car in the background, as well as the fact the filmmakers weren't apparently able to convince the government or building managers to shut the electricity off, but for the vast majority of the time the depiction of a world with almost every human gone is surprisingly convincing. The filmmakers also added some "oomph" to the movie in other ways as well. At one point the filmmakers managed to wangle an airplane, and they not only show it rolling around the airport runway but actually flying in the air - some of those latter shots obviously shot from another aircraft flying alongside. Also, there is a fairly impressive low budget fiery explosion of a church, which leads to one brief sequence showing a zombie on fire.

All of those above accomplishments are very impressive. However, at the same time they are not quite as pleasing to the eye as they could have been. For the most part it isn't because of any flaw that appears before the camera - it is instead the camera itself. While the movie appears to have been photographed with a digital camera (the DVD presents the movie in anamorphic widescreen), there were times I could almost swear that the movie was shot with a VHS camcorder. The colors are frequently murky and dark, and the focus for the most part is not that sharp. The better looking parts of the movie seem to be the more expensive-looking segments that were obviously shot after getting the forty thousand dollar advance; obviously a better camera was obtained for these segments. But there are some parts of the movie that wouldn't have looked better had there been better photography, and it has to do with the next question you probably had about Last Of The Living - "How does the zombie makeup and gore-related material look?" Well, I hate to break it to you, but this essential stuff is a pretty big disappointment. The zombies themselves constantly appear as if little work was done in the makeup department. A few spots of blood around the mouth, some semi-pale makeup on the rest of the face, and that's usually about all that's done with the making of these zombies. Sometimes when other flesh is showing on the zombies (like hands and arms), the skin looks a strange and healthy pink color. As for gore-related material, I hate to break it to you, but there is almost none of that stuff here. Your typical hour-long episode of The Walking Dead television show has a lot more blood and gore than what's found in the entire ninety-three minutes of Last Of The Living.

To be fair, the movie isn't just trying to be a zombie horror movie, but also attempting to be a comedy of sorts, a humorous look at what slackers might do if a zombie holocaust actually happened. But when it comes to delivering laughs, the movie also fails to satisfy. It is not the fault of any members of the no-name cast; although the actors speak in thick New Zealand accents that at times makes it hard to figure out what they are saying, it quickly becomes clear that every one of them is giving out at the very least a reasonable amount of effort. But even their enthusiasm can't make up for their inadequately written roles. The three slacker characters are written to be goofballs, but they come across as completely alike goofballs. There is barely anything that differentiates them from each other. To make matters worse, none of these alike characters does that much that is even remotely funny. In the middle of a dying world, one character plays the drums and the guitar, and his friends like watching television. That's supposed to be funny? And their interplay with each other is equally devoid of laughs. We learn that this zombie holocaust has been going on for six months, and they've been together for that long. But they act like they are relative strangers who know hardly anything about each other. These characters should have been constantly clashing with each other, which could have been very funny to observe, but no sparks fly at all. Even when their numbers start to diminish, they take their dwindling numbers with barely a shrug. Clearly, the screenplay for Last Of The Living is the biggest offender of all its flaws. Had director / screenwriter / producer / editor Logan McMillan had taken the time to give his screenplay a few more rewrites (and gotten some effective feedback from others), it's possible that I might have overlooked the awful cinematography, cheap zombie makeup, and limited gore effects to find the movie an amusing romp of sorts. But as it is, the movie remains just a warning to all aspiring poverty-row filmmakers that it doesn't matter how resourceful you are for production values if your screenplay is lacking.

(Posted May 10, 2015)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: The Convent, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Route 666