Last Straw- Beyond Fest 2023
October 4th, 2023
MOVIE: LAST STRAW
STARRING: JESSICA BELKIN, JEREMY SISTO, GLEN GOULD, TAYLOR KOWALSKI
DIRECTED BY: ALAN SCOTT NEAL
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
There is a great movie inside of Alan Scott Neal’s Last Straw but it will be overshadowed by frustrating narrative choices and an ending that fails to land. The concept has been used before in the horror genre, in this instance, a 20-year-old woman is left alone to manage a roadside diner in a small town, and then proceeds to be terrorized by a group of four masked assailants. It’s a fight for survival, with a lone woman fighting off her attackers, but when the story turns the point of view to the bad guys, it becomes hard to give them the benefit of the doubt. Last Straw is a competently made film, desperately in need of a few more edits, and one more read-through, and then it could have been the better movie it intended to be.
The lead is Nancy (played by an excellent Jessica Belkin), a 20-year-old, who we meet sitting in her car on the side of the road with her friend Tabitha (Tara Raani). She just found out that she’s pregnant and that certainly puts a damper on dreams of getting out of town. Her father (Jeremy Sisto) runs The Fat Bottom Diner on the side of the highway, and Nancy works as a waitress, making money with minor hopes to possibly take over the business someday. When her father decides to have a date night out, he leaves Nancy to take on the night shift, along with a group of dimwitted co-workers not interested in making her day any easier. She’s soon harassed by a group of teenagers outside, throwing roadkill at her and laughing at her frustration.
Now the night is on edge and when head chef Jake (Taylor Kowalski) does not come to her defense and instead eggs her on, it pushes Nancy too far, and she fires him. Can she do that? Nobody is really sure, but she’s pissed off and makes sure everyone leaves early for the day. Now she’s alone, as the kids come back to harass her even more, and this time things become scary. Nancy will find herself fighting for her survival but writer Taylor Sardoni will pause that side of the story and show us what happens after Jake leaves work for the day.
It’s that major shift in the narrative that is not only jarring but ends up biting director Alan Scott Neal in the butt. It’s a daring shift and well told to see how a moment in life can impact the person on the other side, but when the story eventually connects the narrative threads together, there are a few leaps the action takes to make Nancy our hero again. It’s a shame too, as the performance from Belkin is very good, where she is clearly going on with other stresses in life, yet won’t let uninspired men disrespect her. The direction from Neal is strong and it’s not to say that Last Straw would be better had it just been an invasion-style horror film, similar to Don’t Breathe, The Strangers, or The Strangers: Prey at Night, but it might not move our characters into places that become plot holes. Some characters will end up bleeding for days without death and others will have actions that make things more difficult than they had to.
In the end, Last Straw even has our main character act in a way that seems counter to everything she went through, and not connecting the dots on her attitude from the start to the finish. It left a nasty taste in my mouth and although the first hour had me thinking I had a new favorite, it’s amazing how a narrative can shift with just a few uninspired choices. Director Alan Scott Neal is impressive and maybe there can be a new cut that fixes the ending of this thing, but there were just too many wrong choices and too many narrative mistakes. For me, that was the Last Straw.
LAST STRAW PREMIERES AT BEYOND FEST THIS SATURDAY OCTOBER 7TH, 2023.
Written by: Leo Brady