The Last Act: Filmart Review

Dragon Horse Films
A nice-looking mystery confined to an apartment turns into a respectable first film, though it often seems more like stage material.

Jeff Kennedy’s debut feature is a psychological drama that pits a house-ridden old playwright against his lovely but dangerous caregiver.

A disquieting atmosphere of danger lifts The Last Act out of the pack of Hong Kong expat films and into an intriguing, if never thrilling, psychological mystery that rolls on pretty smoothly to its final revelations. Writer-director Jeff Kennedy’s feature debut, centered on an ailing elderly playwright and his possibly evil caregiver, is a tasteful drama that brings to mind Joseph Losey’s 1963 classic The Servant, as the protagonist gets weaker and weaker and his nurse takes the upper hand. But there’s nothing about class differences here and the payoff, when it comes, is more on the order of a mystery revealed. This well-made effort from the Hong Kong shingle Dragon Horse Films could slide into festival slots before TV sales begin.

Although the film is shot in English with an international cast, there is no sense of place at all. A contemporary urban landscape outside the spacious windows of an apartment provides the only clue we’re in a nameless city. What may have been a production necessity drains the story of atmosphere and social context.

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There is a lot of theatricality foregrounded here, and not just because Harold Lansky (played cantankerously by Aussie actor Robin Queree) is a famous playwright. The action takes place almost entirely inside his well-appointed apartment, a space made nearly abstract by the modernist set design. As the expository dialogue soon reveals, the hoary-headed Harold hasn’t written a word since the untimely death of his wife, Elsa, 30 years ago. After he suffers a minor stroke, his grown son Martin (a wincingly normal Charlie Schroeder) forces him to suffer the attentions of Ruth (Muriel Hofmann), an attractive young woman who moves into the apartment to take care of him.

Harold hates her from the start and, noting that she looks just like his dead wife, begins to smell a rat. Her supercilious bedside manner, not to mention her overt hostility to Harold, is anything but reassuring, and this creates a nice note of tension that carries them through the second act.

The final ingredient is 10-year-old Anna (the unsettlingly mature Caroline Addison), the girl next door, who precociously spies on everyone and decides to play on Harold’s team against Ruth and Martin.

Queree (Gossip Nation) heaps ambiguity onto Harold, allowing us often to see him as a crazy old coot who has a closet full of skeletons. Making him even harder  to identify with, he’s more crotchety and cold-blooded, but his gradual physical decline and helplessness make him the go-to protagonist here. As Ruth, Hofmann puts her exotic good looks to effective use to disorient Harold, who can't figure out why she's a spitting image of the dead Elsa. Hofmann, known mainly for her anime dubbing, is efficient as the caregiver from hell, but both actors wade through an awkward excess of dialogue, where fewer words would have been more evocative.   

Esther Verkaik’s cool cinematography complements Suzy Annetta’s fashionable black-and-neutrals set design. In the same modernist vein, Gregory Corcione uses a few piano notes in lieu of music to set the anxious mood.

Production: Dragon Horse Films

Cast: Robin Queree, Muriel Hofmann, Caroline Addison, Charlie Schroeder, Kieran O’Rorke, Rachel Oliver

Director-screenwriter: Jeff Kennedy

Producer: Craig Addison

Director of photography: Esther Verkaik

Production designer: Suzy Annetta

Editor: Semeon Ogryzko

Music: Gregory Corcione

No rating, 85 minutes.