VOD REVIEW: THE LAST ROAD / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: JOHN WHEELER / SCREENPLAY: JOHN WHEELER / STARRING: AARON LONG, SIMON SOKOWLOWSKI, LAURA MARKLEW / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Set in a troubled English suburban town, Toby (Long) is a local fighter who’s down on his luck, and whose life has been tough. His mother is an invalid and someone he vents his anger and frustration on, the town dislikes him and a nasty businessman has his own plans for him that will cause a chain of events that ultimately tear his life apart. One day, during one crucial bout, he is accidentally killed, and ends up in-between heaven and hell. Because of his sinful past, he’s dropped off in the middle of an unforgiving landscape, where he will either sink or swim in a gigantic deep-end. Caught in the flux of paradise and sin, it’s all up to him to find his own way as he embarks upon a spiritual journey, or he faces being stuck forever going in circles.
The depiction of the afterlife has always been a thorny issue to tackle in cinema, and is something that can result in utter derision. Whilst there may have been great examples of portraying the outlandish visions of heaven (or hell) onto screen (The Rapture and A Matter of Life and Death), there have been extremely flawed examples (Where Dreams May Come and The Lovely Bones). In the case of this film, they’ve decided to portray that using real atmospheric forests and rundown structures, which is a sigh of relief since current depictions tended to use digital effects over practical.
However, while the film can be technically stunning, underneath that there isn’t a whole lot of substance, and as a result, it ends up becoming somewhat boring. There was no emotional connection to any of the main characters, particularly Toby who we’re meant to feel deep sympathy for throughout the whole film. Watching the way he interacts with his ill mother at the beginning was appalling to see, and after that, there was complete disconnection from that character. Maybe this was written as a plot device in order to justify the reasons for him going to hell, but it seems forced and very ill-judged. You’re meant to feel engaged with the story and these tortured characters, but the film lacks any momentum or intrigue. Also, the connection between Toby and his dog Prince seems to be used as a way of manipulating the audiences’ emotions, and ends up being nothing more than saccharine schmaltz.
This is a shame, because it has a great plot setup, an uncompromising brutality, and it exhibits potential for the first-time director, with carefully orchestrated shots. But it fails to deliver on its ambitious setup and ends up being something that actually makes The Lovely Bones look like a masterpiece, even if the afterlife depicted in that looked like something out of a Super Mario Galaxy game.