BLOOD IN THE SNOW FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! There is something uniquely engaging about Barret Mulholland’s first feature, Last County. The director “likes to make movies that entertain.” But there’s a curiosity to how the film, written by Matthew and Sean Kohnen, does so, especially because the premise seems about as typical as thrillers come. But what’s so striking is that the filmmakers seamlessly incorporate a variety of genres into the story.
Abby (Kaelen Ohm) is an alcoholic housewife who takes to her parents’ isolated farmhouse to deal with a struggling marriage. There, she is abruptly held hostage by a wounded drug mule named Bennet (Gord Rand). The situation escalates even further when the town’s corrupt sheriff (Nicholas Campbell) arrives to claim Bennet’s head, peacefully or otherwise.
Though Last County is fundamentally a dramatic thriller, the screenplay has no qualms about dipping into humor and even moments inspired by Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns, complete with house sieges and sunset standoffs. Astonishingly, it all works. And though the closing act stutters, Mulholland’s feature debut is very much a successful outing. The cinematography is robust in a way that successfully echoes this dramatic yet tongue-in-cheek sensibility. Many shots are precisely framed to establish a character’s mental state. The director and director of photography, Matthew Kohnen, are able to establish shots in a multidimensional way ingeniously. A frame focused on suspense can be unexpectedly flipped to inject humor. It’s a fantastic showcase of how well-conceived the motion picture’s visual identity is.
“…the town’s corrupt sheriff arrives to claim Bennet’s head, peacefully or otherwise.”
The core trio all give excellent performances. The director extracts from each actor a deeply human aspect. But even more, they embody their specific character, calibrated perfectly with a twinge of fourth-wall-breaking awareness that works sublimely with the movie’s style. Abby is a believably broken woman whose transition to quasi-heroine feels genuine. Bennet is a deeply personal, almost vulnerable character of grit and determination. And the sheriff is an atypical anti-villain whose enigmatic personality matches his unexpected charisma. Undoubtedly, these three are the engine on which the thriller runs.
However, the Last County runs aground in the finale. While the Kohnens craft two solid narrative movements, as with many indie films, the closing act tries to become something the story was never building toward. Instead of riding the sly tone to its logical conclusion, or even an unexpected one, things suddenly depart for something more boring. It’s an unfortunate waste, considering how well the lines of right and wrong are blurred for most of the plot.
Still, despite a less-than-suitable closing, Last County is a genuinely entertaining piece of genre cinema. The film is a showcase for the director’s grasp of cinematic techniques, as well as a window into the crafty way in which he visualizes his stories. Riotous and clever, this is a marked debut for Barret Mulholland.