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[FrightFest Glasgow 2024] FILM REVIEW: Last Straw

Last Straw - FrightFest Glasgow 2024 UK Premiere Review


Director: Alan Scott Neal

Starring: Jessica Belkin, Taylor Kowalski, Joji Otani-Hansen, Christopher Lopes, Jeremy Sisto


Written by: Taylor Sardoni

Produced by: Cole Eckerle, Dane Eckerle, Taylor Sardoni, Michael Giannone, Phil Keefe, Levon Panek, Sam Slater

Cinematography by: Andrey Nikolaev

Original Score by: Alan Palomo


Synopsis:

A small town killing spree lands on the doorstep of a rural diner, where a young waitress must fight for her life over the course of one long night


Last Straw Film Review

Thoughts:

It's difficult for modern day "home invasion" type films to really create their own identity without rehashing so much of what we've seen before. 'Last Straw' doesn't always pave it's own original path but it's gutsy enough to take the narrative structure in a courageous direction, and it works.



Jessica Belkin stars as frustrated 20 year old Nancy, who works as a manager at her Father's small town diner. It's made vehemently clear that this is not the career choice she had planned and that she is quite unhappy with how her life is panning out. Part of her misery can be attributed to the obvious disdain that some of her work colleagues have for her, particularly the head chef Jake, who thinks she is just an undeserving nepo-baby who isn't worthy of his respect. When we first meet Nancy she is squatting in a field and taking a pregnancy test. It's positive. Not the best way to start her day.


Her work day continues in pretty awful fashion as she is informed by her Father that she'll have to stay on after her shift and work through the night. And to make matters worse she'll be working with Jake which she is not best pleased about. Her bad day gets even worse when she is harassed by a group of masked youths who won't leave the diner. She's forced to call the police, or at least she pretends to make the call. The degenerates eventually leave but threaten to return later that evening.


Jessica Belkin as Nancy from Last Straw

Having had to deal with the upsetting situation herself without the help from any of her male co-workers, Nancy is notably pissed off and berates the staff and Jake's response is a little too savage. He pushes Nancy over the edge and she fires him on the spot. And now that means she'll be covering the night shift herself. Everyone thinks there will be no customers anyway, but guess who shows up...



'Last Straw' starts off in fairly typical fashion setting up the characters and their relationship with each other before refreshingly turning itself on its head and trying something new. After the initial attack on Nancy at the diner by the group of thugs we then go back and see it through the attackers eyes. And although much of the film uses familiar tropes there's a cool surprise that really makes the entire plot even more interesting.



The writing is pretty good although it's difficult to fully understand the ease at which the leader of the thugs turn violent. There's somewhat of an explanation but it still feels a little too thrown together and illogical. I guess we just have to accept that both Nancy and her attackers have hit their breaking point, their last straw and enjoy how it all plays out. There's not an awful lot of set-up and pay offs but there's enough tension between the first encounter of the thugs and when they return and plenty of entertaining stuff afterwards too.


Last Straw Film Review

The entire film is elevated by the fantastic performance of Jessica Belkin who is absolutely gonna be a huge star. Her fiery attitude during the earlier dramatic scenes and the more traumatic sequences later on perfectly highlight her ability to be both sincerely vulnerable and fiercely independent. Nancy exhibits a gradual empowerment along with a resolute willingness to survive and Belkin really captures this onscreen, especially as the film explores themes of toxic masculinity.



I adored the look of the film, Neal and cinematographer Andrey Nikolaev really give it a late 70s thriller feel and use the (mostly) single location of the late night diner to great effect. The pacing is spot on, even after the decision to jump back in time with the attackers, and with some fantastic music choices too. I'm certain there's a lovely little 80s synth homage to Charles Bernstein's theme from 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' and I assume Director Alan Scott Neal and Writer Taylor Sardoni are fans, hence the name Nancy. A worthy and invigorating debut feature from Neal.


Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️


-Gavin Logan


'Last Straw' received its UK Premiere at FrightFest Glasgow on March 9th

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