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Last Ones Out
Genre Thriller
 
Review:

Last Ones Out is punted as Africa's first zombie feature film. While it's difficult to dispute, since there doesn't appear to be a horde of titles to rival the claim, it's still quite surprising. Especially when you consider Nollywood's flourishing grassroots film industry and that the decision to make Last Ones Out, a zombie film, was necessitated by budgetary constraints.

Last Ones Out was birthed from passion, enterprise and ironically, undying commitment. The credo of "no excuses" is what drove co-producers, writer-director Howard Fyvie and actor Greg Kriek to take the initiative and make a little-big feature film with "a little help from their friends", and a modest R50,000 budget.

Going into Last Ones Out forewarned will help you accommodate some of its flaws, appreciate the ambition and comprehend the guts of the undertaking. What they've achieved is remarkable, delivering a feature that while far from perfect is still atmospheric, watchable and enjoyable within its framework.

The story follows the last ones out, four people who manage to escape a hospital in the midst of a zombie apocalypse in Southern Africa. Their mission seems to be clear, rescue the doctor's son and make it to the town of Harbel to catch a convoy to reach a helicopter and be airlifted to safety.

The ragtag survivors include a patient, a doctor in-training, the hospital's resident doctor and a friend. Forced together by their do-or-die circumstances, they endeavour to stay one step ahead of the epidemic and work as a team. It's a fairly simple but effective story, moving along from a road movie to an on-foot survival drama as the characters form, storm and norm.

The cast and performances are what ground this story and reality. Greg Kriek plays Henry, a mysterious American man who gets caught up after checking into a hospital for an operation. Kriek is determined, fierce when it counts and mostly likable, despite his character's best efforts to distance us. He stars opposite Christia Visser as Sunet, a medical intern and modern zombie version of Florence Nightingale, altruistic, constantly wanting to help - a self-dependent team player.

They're supported by Tshamano Sebe as Siseko and Vukile Zuma as Vincent, a doctor and hospital worker. Sebe is sturdy and has soul, adding weight to a young ensemble in terms of age and experience, conveying much of the emotional undercurrent. Zuma is the fourth wheel in this road movie and maintains the intensity with a sharp-witted and dependable supporting performance.

The characters hold our attention, but this is a straight zombie thriller, so don't expect too many layers. Giving them little exposition, keeps their motivations mission-orientated and shrouded in mystery, but the tight ensemble manage to fill the characters out with rugged determinism and no-I-in-TEAM optimism.

The film locations are another highlight, moving from a rural hospital, desolate factory yards and townships to beautiful natural forests and mountains. These backdrops would be worthy of a big budget production and there are some great Terrence Malick style contrasts.

Last Ones Out was partly inspired by Monsters, an atmospheric and minimalist drama thriller from Gareth Edwards that managed to get by on smart guerilla style shooting, terrific locations and creative problem solving. Timmy Henny's cinematography adds more clout to this low budget production, using similar tactics and capturing an air of danger with the gritty visuals. The skirmish action sequences are frenetic and needed more choreography and time, but remain serviceable.

There are always going to be sacrifices when you make a film on a shoestring budget and besides an overall lack of gore and zombie hordes, Last Ones Out suffers from a series of continuity errors. A blood smear on a face keeps reinventing itself when it should have been cleaned off to save face and our walking wounded hero seems to walk off broken glass surgery.

The characters are convincing enough, but several elements in the story didn't add up and punctured the tone intermittently. The timing of a callous phone call, the journey's timeline, lack of rations, acceptance of the area's apocalypse and a dramatic, yet fatalistic ending. These quizzical plot holes do generate one or two unintentional laughs and distract from fully embracing the suspended reality.

While not quite on par with Monsters, Last Ones Out is an excellent example of what can be achieved with a next to no-budget production. The performances are sturdy, the terrific film locations give the project much more scope, the urgent cinematography adds to the intensity of the zombie thriller and the African flavour keeps things fresh. The real travesty is that the big picture has been shot-through with mistakes and story flaws that diminish the overall effect.

Hopefully, the promise shown in this African zombie thriller will connect with audiences and the film will develop a cult following demanding a Second Last Ones Out sequel, or better yet, attract the financing it needs to be remade as envisioned with more time, money and foresight.

The bottom line: Admirable


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