Thanks to Danny Boyle and his rage-infested 2002 "zombie" film "28 Days Later," we now have a neverending stream of fetid "undead virus" movies clogging video store shelves all across the globe. And while some of these second-rate knock-offs serve as passable Friday night entertainment, the majority of these endeavors are nothing more than cheap cash-ins designed to sucker naive, watch-anything horror fans out of their hard-earned cash. If you think you've got an original spin on an established idea, that's great. Outstanding. I'm very happy for you, and wish you nothing but the best. However, if you're just rehashing what's already been done, shame on you and your entire diseased bloodline.
Naturally, I was expecting Logan McMillan’s gory 2008 horror/comedy “Last of the Living” to be just another podunk entry into an already-bloated subgenre that should immediately locate a spot under the front porch in which to quietly pass away. On the surface, the picture appears to be nothing more than a New Zealand version of Boyle’s genre-defining masterpiece, sprinkled with the sort of faux-cool best friend banter you’re likely to find in the latest Kevin Smith comedy. I know what you're thinking, and it's not very nice.
However, what you don‘t expect this sort of goofy motion picture to have is a big heart and a functional brain. Yes, the characters are borderline obnoxious and, yes, you’re likely to have everything figured out by the fifteen-minute mark, but McMillan and crew do a fine job of helping you forget just how familiar their snappy material is by making everyone so damned likeable. Funny how a little characterization can go a very long way.
The film opens with the prerequisite “man wandering empty streets” sequence, a scene which is soon followed by a few tone-establishing conversations between our three heroes, namely Morgan (Morgan Williams), Johnny (Robert Faith), and Ash (Ashleigh Southam). As most single guys in this sort of situation would do, these three lovable morons spend their empty days and nights listening to music, watching movies, and playing video games without much thought given to the flesh-munching madness that surrounds them. In fact, the only time they go outdoors is to wrangle more food and audio/visual stimuli from various retailers throughout the abandoned city.
All of this changes, however, once they cross paths with Stef (Emily Paddon-Brown), a beautiful and headstrong scientist hell-bent on retrieving a sample of zombie blood for use in a possible cure. Reluctantly, our heroes agree to aide the little lady on her valiant quest to save mankind from extinction, an adventure that will take them through a number of horror movie clichés, including but not limited to: hospitals, long stretches of desolate highway, and, of course, an island infested with the living dead. If you’ve spent any time with the genre at all, this is pretty standard stuff.
Make no mistake about it: Your enjoyment of "Last of the Living" will depend greatly upon your tolerance for the film's three stereotypical protagonists. Ash is the wimp with the heart of gold, Morgan's the egotistical actor with a taste for the ladies, and Jonny's the sort of bloke who enjoys playing the electric guitar on the roof of his house while hordes of zombies swarm the lawn. Their joke-laden banter occasionally wears thin, especially when they opt to argue about girls in the midst of a full-on zombie attack. It's presented in a jangly, light-hearted fashion, but it does, at times, feel tacked on.
McMillan's script, too, has its issues. Searching for anything remotely original is futile; spotting all of the nods and subtle references is great fun, for sure, but it does grow tiresome when you expect the adventure to expand its horizons, to take on a life of its own. The only mystery and suspense to be found lies within deciphering which members of the cast will bite the dust first. Sadly, even this entertaining little mini-game is fairly straightforward and easily mastered.
At the end of the proverbial day, "Last of the Living" has more strengths than faults, though I suspect most genre-happy individuals will despise the film rather than appreciate it for what it is. The whole bloody affair is painfully familiar, as most modern horror movies tend to be, but it balances the borrowed plot points and tired imagery with some great dialogue and a gaggle of genuinely sympathetic characters. Ignoring the lingering smell of "28 Days Later" becomes difficult at times, though, chances are, you'll be too amused by the impressive gore, the well-written script, and the solid performances to really care. Here's hoping a Region 1 release is well underway.