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Last Sentinel (2023) Review

Last Sentinel was directed by Tanel Toom (Truth and Justice, The Confession), written by Malachi Smyth (The Score, Ghost Machine), and stars Kate Bosworth (The Enforcer, The Immaculate Room), Thomas Kretschmann (Stalingrad, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels), Lucien Laviscount (Love Beats Rhymes, Scream Queens), and Martin McCann (Wildfire, Wolf). It’s about a skeleton crew of soldiers in an ocean set military base waiting for whoever may find them first, their allies or their enemies.

The Plot: Sci-fi worlds offer new ways to explore more historical and contemporary plots, like the scenario imagined by Smyth. Though there’s a healthy level of worldbuilding, there’s precious little in the way of new developments.

2063’s Earth hosts only two small continents after the seas have risen to engulf the rest, resulting in an endless war between them. Watchtowers have been built by both sides and provided with powerful weaponry, should another attack commence. Last Sentinel’s choice characters reside here, with Cassidy (Bosworth), Sullivan (Laviscount), and Baines (McCann) under the charge of Hendrichs (Kretschmann), waiting for anything at all to happen. This is a case where a film should’ve had a lot to do in little time, as a new arrival soon to upset the status quo is the one major event here, finding new story destinations running dry quickly.

Relief was supposed to arrive three months ago, but it has yet to do so. With an empty ship called the Aurora drifting into view, it’s apparent where the film will stake its flag. Expected beats soon follow, with the commander wanting to use the supplies from the Aurora to continue the waiting game, while the rest of the crew want to repair it and sail home.

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It’s a largely vacant affair where secrets aren’t kept. The closest Toom gets to a narrative addition is a distress signal sent by Sullivan that gets mirrored, but this too is over before anything substantial comes from it. Foundations are great here, but Last Sentinel offers too little in the plot department when the film’s world gives ample options.

The Characters: Bordering on the utilitarian, the script takes place well after the crew members have established relationships with each other, thereby leaving the audience with little aside from inferences about all of them.

Cassidy is given a light level of background details, with the existence of a family back home confirmed, making one of her few activities sitting and staring blankly while wondering how they’re doing. Apart from this, she’s terribly cynical, going on about making the world a better place without humans; not an appealing trait, but it’s something which is at least juxtaposed with her reluctance to follow orders that might harm her mates.

Sullivan is another generic archetype, this time of the bored and over it soldier who just wants to go back home, as they all do. Smyth tries to insert a more physical connection between him and Cassidy, but Cassidy pushes it off to a point where it may as well have been absent. Similarly, Baines is a wilier and less convinced soldier who has had enough of his equipment breaking on him, leaving him to repeat tasks with fewer tools. He clashes with Sullivan over whose fault each error is, and is unsure of either plan, putting him somewhere in the middle of Last Sentinel’s spectrum.

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Hendrichs is yet another ambiguously over-committed commander that’s all too common in these kinds of movies. The script does at least give him some room to breathe since Sullivan’s activities are a bit questionable, but his quiet gruffness only registers because of Kretschmann’s expertise in playing stoic men of power. The whole crew is rather bland with little to identify them aside from accents and looks. All of the actors give good performances, but the script doesn’t back them up.

The Drama: While not necessarily one-note in the depiction of contained and conflicted personalities and orders, the movie doesn’t have much to escalate towards because of its premise, which is inextricably tethered to the nothingness of 2063’s world. Life on the ship bears at least a few differences from other films with similar settings and narratives, but the emphasis here is on how well all of it is illustrated. Supplies are low, the rations are barely edible (if at all, everything looked like mush to me), and the crew’s monthly chance to catch fish for a real meal was lost in a storm.

Toom and Smyth do a great job at showing a traditional scenario of decay, but the real highlights are the sci-fi elements. Since the base is nuclear powered and Baines doesn’t have the tools to maintain it, the crew is forced to take iodine baths and keep their eyes permanently open.

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Emotional and ideological conflicts in Last Sentinel are far less interesting than the environmental ones. With limited characterization, Smyth is forced to essentially replay the same few scenes in slightly different ways, all of which stem from an admittedly engrossing sequence in which Hendrichs almost fires the weapon at the Aurora during Sullivan’s boarding after he goes radio silent. Every battle replicates this formula: the commander adhering to orders while Sullivan tries to work around them, with both of the remaining members caught in between allegiances and the potential of going home.

Speculative moments are decent at least, with the characters offering bits of information about the world and the war, with the enemy unseen for 40 years and the potential of the tides rising again to have taken out both continents already. These bits are few and far between, but they help to break up the vanilla nature of the drama that the script provides. Much like the base, it merely functions.

The Technics: Even with its thinness in mind, Last Sentinel remains compulsively watchable, thanks to its surprising technical aptitude and thespian activity for such an under the radar production.

Toom – who was nominated for an Oscar for his 2010 short film – is a huge asset to the film and one of the main reasons it isn’t boring to the point of tears. His directorial hand is assured, with Mart Ratassepp’s (Virago, Body of Water) cinematography making the steely blues and greys vibrant yet dour.

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It’s impressive work, but perhaps those involved with providing the visuals were too enamoured with what they came up with, as Last Sentinel runs nearly two hours long. With Smyth’s script running out of ideas before the halfway mark, 25 minutes could’ve been removed without much lost amongst them.

Other aspects are generally good but don’t reach the highs of the film’s ability to convey a sense of collapse with such ease. The production design is appropriately spartan with little in the way of detail, which is consistent with the setting’s depressing realities. Special effects are above average for an indie movie, with the endless oceans being believable as a visual and the storms bringing forth a welcome degree of punch when the lightweight script is on the verge of losing all of what little momentum it has. Toom has an impressive eye, but it’s hard not to let one’s own glaze over during the numerous lows.

Far from unwatchable, Last Sentinel provides much to look at with its setting and visuals at the cost of brevity. However, its substance, while adequately covered, is too familiar for a two-hour runtime without vivid writing. Vacancies are present on all fronts.

Last Sentinel is currently available in select theatres as well as on VOD and Digital Platforms via Vertical Entertainment. And if you want more films in the same vein, FilmTagger can offer some suggestions.

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