The post-pandemic era, with the decrease in the release window of movies in digital as well as streaming, has also seen genres like neo-western or neo-noir getting a newer life in that space. This is in sharp contrast to the situation even 20 years ago, where a Coen Brothers black comedy cum neo-noir would be given a theatrical release. Nowadays, a Coen Brothers film is more likely to be released directly to streaming, irrespective of how influential their filmography might be.

Bringing the Coen Brothers or even shows like “Justified” becomes important with regards to “Last County.” The 2024 film, directed by Barret Mulholland, has most of the hallmarks of a feature debut. Working in a genre substrate that is dear to his heart, inspired by the Coen Brothers as well as bringing in shades of John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13,” “Last County” becomes decidedly a genre film that is very much carrying its homages on its sleeve. It would have been a fun theatrical watch.

The difference in Mullholland’s direction from a script by Matthew and Sean Kohnen is the attempt to introduce subversion or pivots in the storyline that would make the narrative engaging. While in most movies, pivoting is primarily a plot-oriented endeavor, these subversions stem from character introductions. The protagonist, Abigail, is flawed and occupies a mental headspace vulnerable enough to be susceptible to manipulation. The headspace is a result of an event due to her alcoholism that is introduced in the opening few minutes.

The bank robbers would be introduced almost abruptly. One moment, we see them hiding a few distances away from a blood-streaked van that is being investigated by a stetson-wearing individual; the next, we see them barging into Abigail’s house. The pivot comes forth through the introduction of Bennett (Gord Rand) and his friendly banter with his partner Ephram (Keaton Kaplan) while he tries with Abigail’s help to ensure Ephram recovers from a bullet wound to the stomach. That, along with his interest in Abigail as an individual rather than a potential hostage, becomes the linchpin of the character dynamics between Abigail and all the other oddball personalities she would have the unfortunate privilege of meeting.

Last County (2024) Movie Review
A still from “Last County” (2024)

A similar sort of introduction occurs with the introduction of Sheriff McClean and Deputy Lee Hargood (Pedro Miguel Arce) through their nonchalance about their blood-soaked hands. Hargood is instructed by McClean to respond to Abigail’s 911 call, and his stubbornness to take Ephram to a hospital or refusing to call for backup is the movie’s first tell-tale sign of defining its primary antagonist. It highlights the potential corruption of the police department in an interesting fashion. As a result, when the actions begin escalating with the comedy of errors slowly devolving into violence and bloodshed, tear gas being thrown into the house as the intensity ratchets up, the inspiration of the Coen Brothers shines through.

The movie, however, doesn’t entirely stick to the landing concerning the balancing act between a black comedy and a home invasion thriller. It struggles to maintain the momentum, especially during the initial moments of the narrative when it is focused on setting up the characters. The handling of some of these characters is also vastly different from each other. For Abigail and Bennett, their reactions and performances mostly resemble those evoking a serious drama, corresponding to the arcs their characters are saddled with. In contrast, the cops, especially Sheriff McClean, are almost cartoonish in their corruption.

The narrative in the second half does utilize escalation, but that build-up lacked suspense. It has been conceptualized just so, but the execution is strangely dissonant, as strange as the jaunty background score utilized during the suspenseful moments. In contrast, the shoot-outs and the sudden bouts of violence work because it originates as both a climax to the serious dramatic moments, as well as a blackly comedic element like the banter between the sheriff and his buffoon deputy Wiley.

Truly, though, the performances of the central cast manage to paper over the flaws. Kaelen Ohm as Abigail is a revelation, fully making the audience empathize with her dilemma, while Nicholas Campbell as McLean truly embodies the sharp-shootin’, wise-cracking, deadpan corrupt sheriff one expects in these black comedy-tinged neo-westerns. Matthew Kohnen’s cinematography shines in the final act, which almost works as a form of “lone mother and cub” scenario, highlighting Abigail’s redemption arc through the crucible of violence completed as she walks off alone into the pale blue horizon, having survived through a bloody carnage. It’s not without its flaws, but “Last County” is a mostly enjoyable ride.

Read More: 5 Movies to Watch if You Liked ‘The Last Stop in Yuma County’

Last County (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
The Cast of Last County (2024) Movie: Kaelen Ohm, Gord Rand, Nicholas Campbell
Last County (2024) Movie Runtime: 1h 23m, Genre: Mystery & Thriller

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