When ten friends arrive at a remote lodge for a fun weekend they discover the entire area to be abandoned. More intriguingly there are no birds, animals or insects around either. Without enough fuel to leave they begin to investigate only for some of their number to disappear, seemingly into thin air.
Much of what works in Last Stop (or Don’t Blink depending on your preference) from writer and director Travis Oates is down to the interactions between the characters. Well-written and well-acted, this is a group that you believe know each other well; with throwaway lines and knowing nods indicating a history that adds rare depth to an ensemble cast of this size. When the first of the group, Tracy (headline name Mena Suvari), disappears early on you also realise that anyone is at risk and as such the formulaic rules of the traditional thriller are discarded, much to the film’s credit.
There are also some clever little horror tropes; “Help me” scrawled on the inside of a cupboard unseen by the group, “Don’t Blink” written in lipstick on a mirror, and the constant references to classics of the genre, of which some are even name checked both openly and subtly. There is also a brooding, melancholic soundtrack playing from the very beginning that both generates a portentous atmosphere and offers a grim forecast of what is to come.
The problems arise in continuing with the initial premise. With no discernible protagonist this is entirely a character piece, very much in the vein of a single location play, but this creates an issue. Any conflict must arise from within the group and while Zack Ward is impressive as the aggressive Alex, the quickness in his changing personality never really feels tangible. As their number diminishes it is understandable that relationships become strained but too often this feels like filler; the witty and naturalistic dialogue of the opening act giving way to overwrought exchanges that simply repeat what has already been said.
What Travis Oates has produced with Last Stop is a thriller that almost, almost works. The script and performances of the opening act create a promise that the remainder of the film sadly fails to deliver upon. There is simply too little beneath the surface of the single-premise mystery to sustain the film’s ninety minutes and this only leads to a disappointing finale.
LAST STOP / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: TRAVIS OATES / STARRING: MENA SUVARI, ZACK WARD, BRIAN AUSTIN GREEN / RELEASE DATE: 22ND FEBRUARY