Several hundred, if not thousands, of movies set on or around Halloween play up the magical/ supernatural elements associated with the holiday. Some do this to give the horror tropes, which are also heavily tied to the spooky celebration, a new spin. A few focus mainly on those supernatural elements, to create an otherworldly vibe. Of course, others take the kitchen sink approach and just hope something sticks. The Last Halloween, a new short film, tries it all and is set in a post-dystopian landscape to boot.
An unknown event devastates the known world. Survivors hunker in dilapidated buildings, eeking out a meager existence scavenging or hunting whatever game might still be around. On All Hallow’s Eve, four kids dress up- one as a little devil (Brendan Heard), another a little witch (Zoe Fraser), the third is a little Grim Reaper (Drew Davis), and finally, there’s a little ghost (Jake Goodman)- and go to trick or treating throughout the city ruins. As they knock on doors, most of the residents give the kids a little something, even if it is just one item the four friends have to split among themselves. Still, this satisfies them, and they wander to the next house. They come across Jack (Ron Basch) and Kate’s (Emily Alatalo) very secure house, with barbed wire and even a closed-circuit video surveillance system. Jack tells the trick-or-treaters to shove off, but Kate tries to convince him otherwise. He holds fast, telling them once again, to leave his property. Jack and Kate did not treat the costumed children, so, as the saying goes, a trick ensures. Can Jack and Kate survive the onslaught or will this prove to be their breaking point?
“…set in a post-dystopian landscape…four kids go trick or treating throughout the city…”
Less than half of what was just described is told to the audience via dialogue. There is a lot going on in this movie, most of it suggested through the impressive set design, immaculate costuming, and a toned down, washed out color palette. The first house the kids go to is lit by a fireplace or some such but otherwise looks like any modern house. It is not until the kids go to the run-down shack of a middle-aged man who talks in metered rhyme that it becomes obvious this world is not ours. This man’s skin looks leathery, with scabs and lesions dotting his bald head, it is unsettling, even gross, to see.
While director Marc Roussel gets a ton of mileage from the eerie atmosphere, the set exudes, he also shows great skill with pacing and camera blocking. A graffitied car in the forefront of the screen warns of dire situations, and the message seems to be written in blood. The camera dollies past it to the trick-or-treaters nearing a door to knock on. As Kate descends the stairs to try and get Jack to change his mind, the camera pans to the left, revealing that all the electricity in the house is tied together on a small generator and a nest of extension cords. It is small touches like this that really allow the world to feel wholly realized.
“… a ton of mileage from the eerie atmosphere, the set exudes, he also shows great skill with pacing and camera blocking.”
Roussel co-wrote The Last Halloween with Mark Thibodeau, based on Thibodeau’s comic book. The simplicity of the setup and the eventual payoff, which is fantastic, so please don’t spoil it for yourself, showcase spectacular creativity. The eccentric and hard-worn survivors are engaging and captivate the audience. However, certain elements are left too vague by the end, which leaves a few too many unanswered questions. For example, based on the final shot of the movie, are these particular kids responsible for the collapse of civilization? There is a healthy debate to be had either way. At one point, Kate reveals a bruised area on her neck. Within context, this is meant to be representative of whatever event turned the world on its head. A viral outbreak of some kind? Were some people naturally immune? Was Kate able to get a vaccine just in time, so it only infected part of her? Answering this would have helped make Kate a more well-rounded character so that the audience can empathize with her more. Which, in turn, would raise the stakes all the way around.
When the worst thing you can say about a movie is that you want more of it, then the filmmakers did things right. Lingering questions do remain, and answering them wouldn’t have added any significant length, but The Last Halloween knocks it out of the park where it matters. Excellent acting, beautiful set designs, with every frame dripping with the atmosphere to give the viewer maximum spookiness in just 10 minutes.
The Last Halloween (2014) Directed by Marc Roussel. Written by Marc Roussel, Mark Thibodeau. Starring Ron Basch, Emily Alatalo, Drew Davis, Zoe Fraser, Brendan Heard, Jake Goodman.
7 Gummi Bears (out of 10)