Despite its title, The Last Victim isn’t a remake of the 1976 Tanya Roberts slasher film. In fact, it isn’t a horror film at all. It’s actually a hybrid western and film noir set in modern-day New Mexico. The film opens as Jake (Ralph Ineson, The Green Knight, The Witch) makes a late-night stop at Hog Heaven, a roadside BBQ joint. We know he’s looking for trouble as we see his gun long before we see his face. And trouble is indeed coming as Jake’s confrontation with Manny (Tom Stevens, The 100, Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome) leads to the death of not just Manny but a bloody shootout that leaves multiple bodies bleeding out in the desert night.
That’s only the beginning of the violence though. Taking the no bodies equals no crime approach Jake and his gang decide to dump the bodies in a remote wilderness area. Sheriff Hickey (Ron Perlman, This Game’s Called Murder, Hell on the Border) and Deputy Gaboon (Camille Legg, Riverdale) are left trying to deal with that lack of bodies. Also dealing with it are Susan (Ali Larter, Final Destination, Resident Evil: Extinction) and her husband who stumble across Jake and company. Susan is soon made a widow and forced to flee for her life. As the killers stalk her, Hickey and Gaboon follow the leads that will lead them into the wilderness after them.
While this is Naveen A. Chathapuram’s first film as a director he has been involved with the likes of Ca$h and Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn as a producer so he’s not entirely a stranger to filmmaking. He’s cited Hell or High Water and No Country for Old Men as the inspirations for The Last Victim and their influence shows. Working from a script by first-time writer Ashley James Louis he’s crafted a film that while not quite in their league certainly leaves an impression on the viewer, especially coming from a writer making his feature debut.
Constantly switching focus between the players as the story unfolds, and interweaving it with philosophical voiceovers by Ineson, Chathapuram keeps the tension up as the story’s pieces fall into place. With a running time of a hundred and three minutes to fill he doesn’t always manage to succeed and The Last Victim does have a few scenes that run a bit longer than they need to. There’s also an entirely unnecessary epilogue that should have been cut at the script stage.
The Last Victim also benefits from some very natural-sounding banter between Perlman and Legg as they do their investigating. Not that it’s allowed to lighten things up for too long, just long enough for the viewer to let their guard down before being wound up again.
The performances by the leads are all excellent. Perlman is perfect as the small-town sheriff and Ineson is chilling as the stone-cold villain. Larter for her part makes a convincingly tough heroine. The real surprise though is relative newcomer Legg who holds her own with the veterans. In a role that’s more complex than it first appears. And Waldo deserves a mention as The Last Victim’s goodest small boi.
Top it all off with striking cinematography by Lukasz Pruchnik (House of Bodies, Go Goa Gone) that makes the landscape look beautiful or menacing as needed and a solid score by Darren Morze (Coven, Age of the Living Dead). And you have a film that, despite the need for better editing is a tense and satisfying thriller. The Last Victim is a film that marks its makers as talents to keep an eye on.