Last Girl Standing is an interesting diversion from “final girl” norms, forgoing bloody buildups in favor of a life after slasher chaos. Its production may never meet the promise of such a genre shakedown, but the ideas are concrete. That’s what’s most frustrating about this ambitious horror/drama – even after escalating into PTSD allegories, generic drabness never elevates excitement or mentally stimulates us.
Benjamin R. Moody’s feature debut encapsulates first-timer cinema navigation, be it through minimalist design value or your run-of-the-mill cast that doesn’t hold any surprise breakouts. Story significance is alive, but execution needed to be ten times tighter. Hopefully Moody will take this experience as a stepping stone to bigger things, but a knockout debut Last Girl Standing unfortunately is not.
Akasha Villalobos stars as Camryn, the lone survivor from a cultists’ murderous camping trip rampage. We meet her just as she’s found on the side of a desolate road, bloody and beaten. Camryn wants to move on, but she’s plagued by visions of the deer-antlered maniac who killed all her friends. Co-worker Nick (Brian Villalobos) attempts to reach out, but Camryn is a tough egg to crack. Eventually, Camryn warms to Nick’s charms, but her paranoia only increases. In order to embrace normalcy, Camryn must seek closure from the last place she ever wants to visit. The same backdrop that now stages her recurring nightmares.
The rigidness of Last Girl Standing sucks atmosphere like a vampire does to blood. Camryn’s daily tasks inside her laundromat work environment are repetitive (like the cycling washer machines), and spooks come from chases that never singe with tension. Scenes of apartment banter are filmed without personality, physical clues are placed without psychological explanation and Camryn’s psychosis sluggishly advances as expected. For a horror film, visuals are extremely empty, even despite a gory finale where slasher elements reappear in the form of ghosts from Camryn’s past. The film’s trajectory is never hidden, but without invigorated physical storytelling, bigger ideas are captured in a weightless, voiceless lens. “Slow” is the world we’ll use here…
That said, hardcore genre fans will find Moody’s dissection of life after horror movie survival somewhat intriguing. Slasher movies usually end when the final girl finishes off the killer, but that’s where Last Girl Standing begins. Then it’s back to work, back to social adjusting and back to a routine that just isn’t there. Camryn tries to move on, but is haunted by tragedy.
Much like a soldier returning from war, Camryn is forced to put the pieces back together as best she can, but finds herself broken and alone. On a deeper level, dramatic establishment gives audiences a voyeur’s view into an arc that’s typically ignored, because we want to believe survivors like Camryn are stronger for their victorious battle. Moody suggests otherwise, and that’s the film’s most horrifying aspect.
Unfortunately, performances hamper an otherwise revealing look into behind-the-scenes agony. Villalobos struggles to pull audiences into her dementia, even worse when her horned killer attacks inside the laundromat (real or not). This is one of those films that isn’t done any favors by a host of indie actors who are trying their best but fall effortlessly short when pressure mounts. Emotions never run that deep, and Moody often picks lesser camera angles to structure his cast’s level of paranoia. Every scene feels more procedural than the last, driving home a sense of familiarity with the billion other indie titles who replicate similar shooting patterns.
Plainly put, Last Girl Standing explores a unique horror convention from a fresh angle, but can’t execute when it counts. Death ushers in Benjamin R. Moody’s leading final girl, and death ushers her out (in some way) – but all the filler in between becomes a flatlining chore. No scares, no cohesion and no entertainment worth digging. Slow, somber scenes toy with psychotic mentalities, but never with notability past a masked maniac ghosting his way throughout Camryn’s restructuring. It’s an admirable effort, but sadly one I can’t get behind.
Last Girl Standing explores life beyond slasher survival, but can't match its ideas with memorable execution.