Have you ever wondered what would happen if you mixed the charm of a small-town diner with the suspense of a true crime docu-drama? Well, wonder no more because Alan Scott Neal’s feature film debut, Last Straw, serves up a disturbingly tense thriller that feels like it’s been ripped straight from the headlines of a newspaper that hasn’t even been printed yet.
Let’s start with the juicy bits. The film is set over one fateful night in a dusty roadside diner where our heroine, Nancy (played by Jessica Belkin), is just trying to get through another late shift. But when a group of masked troublemakers decide to make her night a living nightmare, Nancy finds herself in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
“…ripped straight from the headlines of a newspaper that hasn’t even been printed yet.”
The cast is a pitch-perfect ensemble of characters that perfectly encapsulate the struggles of young adulthood in a small town. Nancy, with her dreams of a better life and, is the main dish for this seven-course meal of midnight mayhem. She’s tired of working the same dead-end job in the same dead-end town. Tired of the same creeps drooling over her while she’s at work, and tired having to fight tooth-and-nail to get any of the employees to listen to her. And to add insult to injury, Nancy has just found out she’s pregnant.
Then there’s Jake (Taylor Kowalski), the diner’s lone cook. He’s a rough-around-the-edges smart-aleck who might be a more upstanding citizen if he wasn’t dealt such a shit hand in life. And let’s not forget Bobby (Joji Otani-Hansen), the server who’s got a major crush on Nancy. Being crammed together in the diner, the characters create a tiny ecosystem of real-life problems.
Last Straw comes out the gate like a standard survival story but takes an intriguing approach with its structure by showing us the events of this harrowing night from multiple perspectives. It’s like getting a front-row seat to a grizzly crime scene, forcing you to walk a mile in a murderer’s shoes for better or worse.
However, no dish is perfect, and Last Straw does have its share of soggy fries. While the film does an excellent job building suspense in the early stages, the motivations of some characters, especially the masked assailants, feel a tad undercooked. And while I’m all for a dramatic climax, the finale felt a bit overstretched, like a piece of bubblegum that’s lost its flavor.
“…[an] overwrought modern tragedy, like a contemporary blood-splattered Shakespeare.”
The final 20 minutes of this blood-spattered tale didn’t quite stick the landing for me but if overwrought modern tragedy (like a contemporary Shakespeare) is your bag, then you’ll definitely find plenty to enjoy in Last Straw.
But hey, we’ve all had a meal that wasn’t quite what we expected, right? And that doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy it. Last Straw might have its flaws, but it’s a thrilling ride that offers a unique spin on the survival horror genre. If you’re in the mood for a grim story of life in the modern world with a side of suspense, then this is one diner you’ll want to visit. Just maybe not during late-night shift.
Alan Scott Neal’s Last Strawcelebrated its world premiere at Sitges Film Festival, followed by a North American debut at Beyond Fest in Los Angeles. Let us know if you’re excited to check out Last Strawand what you would do if you were surrounded by a group of masked killers over on Twitter, Threads, Facebook, or in the Nightmare on Film Street Discord!
[Review] A Small Town Diner Becomes A Slaughterhouse in Thriller LAST STRAW
The final 20 minutes of this blood-spattered tale didn't quite stick the landing for me but if overwrought modern tragedy (like a contemporary Shakespeare) is your bag, then you'll definitely find plenty to enjoy in Last Straw.
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