Contains mild spoilers.
I've always found it rather ironic that the zombie film medium itself is so keen to follow the herd with derivative narratives, repetitious cinematography and a hardcore audience always the first up in arms at the first sign of deviation. And I was all ready to chastise Logan McMillan's low budget zombie buddy movie, with its constant inconsistencies, rather impoverished zombie action and general amateur look and feel to the proverbial zombie mass grave. Three rather juvenile, irreverent and one-dimensional characters, an apocalyptic nightmare of working electricity, stocked super-markets and rather sad looking undead all too eager to be dispatched in highly contrived ways, and a story that seemed to be more about the bants than any substance; I really thought we were in for yet another well-intentioned but faltering effort. I should have had faith though, as with a little patience to get through the rather forgettable first fifteen or so minutes, and then forgive it the occasional continuity or coherent dalliance and there's both a quite a tight, complete and entertaining zombie story and a sincere and endearing tale of friendship to be had.
It's six months since the apocalypse took the lives of what looks like all but the scant few, and five since lifelong friends Morgan (Morgan Williams) and Ash (Ashleigh Southam) stumbled across rock wannabe Johnny (Robert Faith) and let him join their frat-boy way of living. They may be all alone, and they may all be desperate for female company, but the total and entire destruction of humanity has generally been a good thing though, allowing time off from accountancy and work, to drink beer, eat chips and play video games without redress. Six months in too and it seems the zombie threat is now pretty trivial with the undead more a ponderous nuisance that an actual danger; and it would have to take something considerable to shake the boys from their inertia
Steff's (Emily Paddon-Brown) violent introduction is the moment Last of the Living springs to life. The lads characters and their relationships are believable and considered but they're shallow and they wear real quick. It's the introduction of a young, feisty, intelligent and good looking girl with a call to arms to save the world not only gives the boys, the viewer, and if the rest of the film is indicative, all involved in the films production, the kick and focus they need. The laboured, lethargic action, is soon replaced with up tempo, and more importantly meaningful zombie woop-assing; the banter with the dynamic drastically ripped apart has deeper resonance, and even the humour seems less forced. The result is a highly polished zombie movie with an assuredness and though the story; really just a to b to c might sound light on paper, less can be more, and here it's more than enough to satisfy, and its also pitched perfect to let the characters and their friendships develop.
If we remind ourselves that it's pre The Walking Dead and a time amazing amateur zombie make-up designers weren't ten a penny, and we remind ourselves the production crew are a small group of friends and the zombies are more than likely local passers-by, then we might just about excuse an aspect of the movie that's far from perfect. Never convincing in looks or behaviour, the undead of Last of the Living almost provide an amateur goofiness undermining without trying, and though I think McMillan ultimately realised with more emphasis on the zombies as a presence in the background to drive the characters rather than the focus of jokes they were never fully convincing. As for the dead themselves? They're quite the generic Romero zombie; dead and on the surface so laboriously slow that I couldn't work out for the life of me how they'd pulled off such a categorical genocide. Towards the end though we see that they're only slow because they're six months dead, and fresh and hungry they're more 28 Days Later and it all made sense.
Far more ambitious and successful than its budget should have allowed, Last of the Living once going, provides a tight, fun and authentic character driven viewing delight. Whilst the action often suffers with less than ideal looking and choreographed zombies and the ambitious outdoor cinematography often felt unnaturally sparse, McMillan ultimately works to the film and budget's strengths; friendship and ennui in post-apocalyptic New Zealand, with resounding success. A feature that feels more than the sum of its parts, no less due in part to utterly engaging musical sound track that echoes the story brilliantly, Last of the Living is testament to amateur film making. Sure it's a slow burn and saddled with an inevitable budgetary hangover, but ultimately I'll recall it favourably for its ambition and courage to be different - 7/10.