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November 2010

The Last Seven

cast: Tamer Hassan, Simon Phillips, Daisy Head, Sebastian Street, and Danny Dyer

director: Imran Naqvi

84 minutes (18) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Paul Higson

The Last Seven

Once upon a time, not too very long ago, films did without twist endings. In fact, it did not matter how powerful a twist ending was - and Psycho and Planet Of The Apes each had a stonker of a closing upsetter - it never really caught on. Who killed the nasty millionaire? Everyone on the train, apparently... What is this alien threat, Vger? Oh, it's that satellite we shot out into space in the year the film was made. It wasn't until the 1990s when the big about-turn began to take hold in movies, with some thanks to The Crying Game and an especial acknowledgement to The Usual Suspects.

Turn the millennium and now it is almost a twist if the movie does not have a twist. On television, the first series of Heroes could not end an episode without a humdinger of a shock, and some movies like X-Men Origins: Wolverine have now applied these bold flips to the 'classic' scriptwriting paradigm with a jolt to close each of its three acts.

Those who script and direct spend considerable time with their work and become a little close to it. Sometimes they can become a little over-enthusiastic about their own achievements, not realising that what they believe to be immensely clever is now median. The Last Seven's director, Imran Naqvi, is heard in additional material on the DVD claiming that his film goes that extra distance.

His argument that this bonus content takes the form of 'social commentary' and 'political awareness' sadly only suggests too much time spent on cod film studies. To be fair to The Last Seven, its scriptwriter John Shirley seems free of such bad education, and Naqvi has turned in a film that, if not particularly astounding, does have more worth than some aggressive critics have given it credit for.

The Last Seven tells of a London deserted but for seven strangers all suffering from an unnatural amnesia. The first to stir from his slumber, facedown in the middle of the road, is William Blake (Simon Phillips), and the film remains with this one man in the epic quiet with only an occasional predatory camera movement to suggest that he might not be alone. His frustrations lead him to making a noise to which someone responds, and he finds himself making his way to a rooftop where he encounters the squiffy and bemused Henry Chambers (John Mawson) who, in nibbles at the past in flashbacks, it is suggested was a bigwig in the government and may have been involved in the calamity that resulted in the current situation.

Blake makes the number up to four as Chambers has already met with teenager Chloe (Daisy Head), and the militaristic heavy Jack (Tamer Hassan), who are looking for the drunken liability. Each has awoken with no memory of their name, history, occupation, or friends or family, but there are sometimes clues about their person, objects that they bring with them, generally some form of ID, thankfully. Then there are the schismatic flashbacks which niggle them with an increasing backstory to each.

Somewhat more fascinatingly, the seven begin to realise that they are all connected in one way or another. Several streets away in a church, Robert (Sebastian Street) finds the sedate Isaac (Ronan Vibert) kneeling before the altar, and the frightened and confused Isabelle (Rita Ramnani), who seems not to speak English. Shortly after, the seven set about solving the mystery. But someone or something is stalking and grabbing them, and time seems to be running out at the same time that it is standing still if they are to solve the mystery before they too vanish.

Too often a movie twist is not that disorientating but instead is either one thing or another, and quite literally so, a coin flip indeed. The remarkable d´┐Żnouement is either this or that, and The Last Seven allows the viewer time to speculate long enough that there is no real surprise when the reveal comes. The film however entertains us verily on the way. The deserted city is convincing, exceedingly well done, which makes it all the more disappointing that the director interferes with the illusion by imposing periodic flashbacks on it.

28 Days Later has been mentioned as an influence but other films are more readily evoked. The lone man in the eerily empty city is reminiscent of Harry Belafonte exploring a stranded New York in Ranald MacDougall's The World, The Flesh And The Devil (1959), whereas the motley group call to mind The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), and London in repose the Sleeper episode of The New Avengers. But apart from these comparisons, and unlike 28 Days Later, The Last Seven feels free of outright impersonation.

The casting for the seven is commendable. Simon Phillips is a commanding enough everyman protagonist, while John Mawson is amusing as the sozzled and unconcerned Chambers. Though all seven seem less troubled than they should be under the circumstances, Ronan Vibert is supernaturally calm in the face of the mystery. He comes across as a stockier version of Alan Rickman, and there is an air about him that suggests that given half an opportunity he might make a great horror film stalwart.

We already have a number of contemporary British horror film stars, whether we want them or not, and no London-set horror film now can seemingly be made unless Danny Dyer is offered a part in it first. Though I defended Dyer on his roles in Doghouse and Straightheads, he is appropriate for certain roles only. Here, he's only tha fakkin' Angel of Death, in 'e? Blindfold him with cloth, partially cover his face, his grim mug is still discernable. The ubiquity of Dyer in British horrors has gotten to the point that I have arrived at the unthinkable and wishing for more Craig Fairbrass in his place.

So, The Last Seven is not as big or smart as it thinks it is. It does however have character, steadily and cleverly reveals itself, and has assembled a core cast that will put it in good stead over repeat viewings as a number of the faces become more familiar in what must be their certain future success.

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