An intriguing if not fully realized sci-fi drama starring Kate Bosworth in a future in which most of the world is underwater and the crew of a lonely outpost questions their fate.
Many movies are evocative of other movies or mythologies, often consciously but sometimes not. This can help the piece, as we summon memories and emotions associated with those other films and — the makers of the new movie hope — transfer them to their picture.
Too often, though, we find ourselves comparing the new flick unfavorably to the previous ones.
“Last Sentinel” is an intriguing, if not entirely realized, science fiction drama that reminded me of a number of movies, sci-fi and not. The most apparent example is “Alien,” in which a discontented crew trapped in a years-long mission in the middle of nowhere must contend with external forces that make them question their role and the loyalty of each other.
There are no spider-creatures popping out of people’s torsos, but the gradual build of tension is clearly similar to the 1979 film.
Given that the setting is at sea, specifically a military station in the middle of the ocean, it also brought back memories of “The Caine Mutiny,” in that the dynamic primarily becomes one between the commanding officer and those reporting to him. The captain seems like a reasonable if strict fellow at first, but over time we realize he’s just plain in over his head … and possibly out of it.
And, of course, the setting of a dystopia where solid land has virtually disappeared from the surface of the Earth due to mankind’s foolishness recalls “Waterworld” — though I assure you nobody suddenly sprouts gills.
Directed by Tanel Toom from an original screenplay by Malachi Smyth, “Last Sentinel” is set some decades into the future. An apparent combination of climate change and nuclear war has left only two small land masses: the Northlands and Southlands, who of course are still at war with each other… at least, in name, since there have been no encounters between them for 40 years.
Kate Bosworth stars as Corporal Cassidy, the steady and competent second-in-command of the station known as the Last Sentinel. Operated by the Southlands, it sits in the middle of the ocean, the first and only line of defense against any attacks. They have a big gun mounted up top, but the real weapon is down in the guts of the station — a nuclear device that would wipe out the whole area, along with those manning it, of course.
The man in charge is Sarge (Thomas Kretschmann), an older seasoned soldier. There’s some hint of disgrace in his past, and this lowly command was his only option.
The others on board are Baines (Martin McCann), a crack engineer who’s constantly raiding parts from one end of the aging rustbucket to fix something on the other; and Sullivan (Lucien Laviscount), the youngest and least assured of the crew.
We quickly grasp the vibe of the foursome. Sarge keeps to himself and expects his every order to be obeyed, under threat of the only handgun on the station, if needs be. Baines has a bit of mania to him, occupying himself to distraction like trying to recreate an art deco chair he sees in a magazine using junk salvaged from the sea.
Sullivan and Cassidy are carrying on a clandestine affair, though such things are hard to really keep a secret in such tight quarters. Cassidy is apparently married and has kids, as we see in an old Polaroid she sneaks peeks at. We get the sense she sees the trysts as a way to ease tension, while Sully harbors hopes it will continue after the mission is over.
(Sully is shirtless often over the course of the movie, revealing the hardcore cut, muscular frame that seems to be de rigueur for Hollywood hunks these days. I kept wondering where on the station they kept all the resistance and cardio machines necessary for such body-sculpting.)
Vicious storms, apparently a feature of the planet’s ruined climate, roll in about once a month, marking out the dull days. The crew’s mood is foul because their two-year mission was supposed to end three months ago, and there’s been no word of their relief arriving.
Their only communication with the homeland is a daily window during which telegraph messages can be received, and every day it only reads “events nil.” Things have gotten so bad and supplies so low they’ve taken to using pages pulled from books for toilet paper. Sully’s working his way through “The Odyssey.” (Har, har.)
Then one day they spy a ship on the horizon — coming from the north, not the south. Sarge is ready to pull the trigger on the big one in the basement, but they eventually realize it is the Aurora, the ship that’s supposed to take them home. The crew is missing, and the craft has apparently been adrift for some time.
Sully and Baines want to abandon their post and take the ship back home, but of course Sarge is going to cleave to their assigned duty, no matter how illogical the ends it takes them to. Cassidy is stuck in the middle, Ripley-like, understanding the importance of discipline but also the limits of its ability govern complex human impulses.
Like “Alien,” the story will take us through switches in loyalty, and suspicion about which member(s) of the crew may have ulterior motives.
I liked a lot of things about “Last Sentinel.” It’s a movie that doesn’t drag but never seems in a hurry. It relies on the relationships of the four crew members to drive the storytelling rather than big special effects or action set pieces. I admired the lived-in look of the station, costumes and props, and the overall production values are quite good for a low-budget picture.
Still, it doesn’t hold a ton of surprises and things end up right about where I expected. Each character is gifted with one chief motivation, and they will follow it unerringly no matter the consequences. Bosworth, as the “name” star and most self-possessed character, naturally becomes the figure we root for.
I don’t mind movies that mix up different parts from other films — I dig casseroles, both on the screen and on the table. Sometimes, though, the creations feel a bit like tired leftovers.