A highly contagious virus is spreading throughout the land. With one bite, it's only hours before victims will turn into zombies and hunt for human flesh. Morgan, Ash, and Johnny might just be the only humans left, but they don't seem to mind and find enjoyment lounging around in their underwear living in vacant homes. When they stumble upon a hot girl who just may have a cure, the three decide it's finally time to step up to the plate and save the world- and the girl. Now the only hope for survival lies in their hands.
Directed by: Logan McMillan
. Starring: Morgan Williams
, Robert Faith
, Ashleigh Southam
, Stacey Stevens
, Jullian Josland
, Shaun Garea
, Alisdair Muir
, Grant Carter-Brown
, Sam Elimelech
, Kim Nash
, Ben Edwards
, Logan McMillan
. Music by: Ben Edwards
, Kurt Preston
"Last Of The Living", written and directed by Logan McMillan, is the latest entry in a long line of low-budget comedy-horror films, the most recognizable of these being Britain's "Shaun Of The Dead". LOTL could be considered a New Zealand take on "Shaun", leavened with that antipodean style and wit present in recent Kiwi comedies such as "Black Sheep" or "Eagle vs. Shark". Sadly, this film does not rise to the level of quality of its predecessor.
Since the plot has been described by others before me, I will not rehash it again here. Read the plot synopsis if you must.
For the most part, character development in this film was lacking. Great pains were taken to present Morgan, the group's defacto leader played by Morgan Williams, as some sort of macho 'God's-gift-to-women' character, but his grating bluster and cocky mannerisms seemed forced and unbelievable. The character of Ash, portrayed by Ashleigh Southam, was equally annoying; after a while, his put-upon, milquetoast persona became almost a parody of itself – it was increasingly hard to believe that someone this soft and wimpy would ever survive an onslaught of zombies. The interplay between Morgan and Ash was obviously intended to be one of the comic highlights of the film. But Morgan's constant jibes calling Ash's masculinity into question (and the latter's reluctance – until late in the movie – to defend himself) got old very quickly, and seemed out of place (frankly, if I were being threatened by flesh-eating zombies every second of the day, I would hesitate to antagonize the person helping me defend myself from them). There was a lack of spontaneity and realness, a sort of "look at me, I'm acting!" undertone through every scene these two actors were in, although it was hard to tell if it was the actors or the writing that was the cause of this.
The last male lead, Johnny (played by Robert Faith – apparently, he wasn't a friend of the director, so his movie name wasn't "Rob") was the most interesting character of the three. With his heartfelt but mediocre talents in music and combat and his "no worries" attitude, Johnny is a guy with his heart in the right place, even if his head wasn't. His character was billed as a one-dimensional "wild rock and roller", but Faith's portrayal was the most believable and multifaceted. With a deft feel for the humor in his role and great action scenes, Faith created a persona most viewers found themselves identifying with – I could easily see Johnny 'getting the girl' long before the purported 'ladies man' Morgan ever did. Obviously a more veteran actor than Williams or Southam, Faith uses his talent well, and didn't try to oversell a role that easily could have become a cliché and parody of itself.
There is little to say regarding the female lead, Emily Paddon-Brown. She is competent enough in her role as Stef. But for the most part, she is used as a plot device, either as a focus of and foil for the male characters' attentions, or as the bearer of the MacGuffin (the plot device used to drive the story, in this case being the anti-zombie vaccine she wants to transport to Stewart Island). When her usefulness to the narrative comes to an end, Stef is, quite literally, dropped from the movie with little ceremony.
The cinematography in this film was very good; the opening shots of a deserted downtown Wellington, and the lads' romp through an abandoned supermarket are just two of the superbly shot scenes that immediately come to mind. And setting selection was also excellent, with the aforementioned supermarket and the hospital scenes deserving special mention, along with long shots of the New Zealand countryside.
"Last Of The Living" wasn't intended to be a laugh-out-loud comedy, but it is a comedy nonetheless, with a light, dry New Zealand type of humor which actually works well for it, and keeps the plot moving along. As stated earlier, with the MorganAsh interplay falling flat, much of this humor comes from Johnny's actions and interactions with the rest of the group. In many ways, Johnny is the tent-pole character – not the central player, nor the one around whom the plot is built, but the one who sets the tone for the film and is its most relatable character. His death two-thirds of the way through the film (one of the movie's most poignant, affecting scenes) is the first major misstep, and the moment when the film begins to go off the rails. After the demise of Johnny, none of the remaining characters are able to pick up where he left off and maintain the humor balance in the movie, although they try mightily. And with two unappealing characters and one nonentity remaining, frankly there is no one left for the viewer to root for.
The film's ultimate failure occurs in the last ten minutes, when McMillan suddenly abandons what is left of that humorous tone, opting for a bleak ending that, frankly, seems to come out of nowhere. This thematic inconsistency is further underscored by the final zombie (minor spoiler alert) suddenly having the apparent ability to run like a gazelle and swim like a shark, unlike the rest of his shuffling, slow-moving zombie brethren shown throughout the film. It was as though McMillan finished writing 90% of the movie, but couldn't think of an appropriate ending to his opus.
Too bad. All of the elements were there for an excellent, engaging movie. Unfortunately, poor writing, odd directing choices and some mediocre acting dragged this film down to the level of 'so-so' at best, 'no-go' at worst. Here's hoping that Mr. McMillan (or is it "Laurance Shaw" (see the 'independent reviewer' above)?) learns from this experience as he prepares for his next film – there is talent there, waiting to be harnessed together as a team rather than as unconnected parts.
Review by H. F. Merritt from the Internet Movie Database.