One issue I want to get out-of-the-way right off the bat might be something the filmmakers had little to do with. I don’t know. But the choice of DVD cover art was not a good choice at all. While this might seem petty to point out, the film itself would align so much better with the original poster art used (as I understand) for film festival screenings and the like. Instead, a stock-standard cover with an image that really doesn’t covey what the film is really about or what a potential viewer should think going in. Again, seems petty until you watch the film and see the original poster which is quite well done and lovely. Instead you get a bland cover that looks just like 20 others you might see browsing the stacks. Doesn’t look unprofessional, just looks average.
With that square, I want to address one other possible issue a viewer might have walking into the film. Kevin Barker’s Last Kind Words is much more a southern gothic tragedy/love story than it is a horror film. While there are supernatural aspects to the story and a bit of historical murderous intrigue to be had, the film really isn’t a horror film at its core. Those heading into it with those kind of clear-cut expectations will likely be frustrated with the film’s style and pacing and divergence from horror standards. That said, the film is good and interesting despite some narrative confusion towards the final act.
After an unsettling beginning involving a hunting accident with a father and son, the story starts in earnest centering around teenager Eli (Spencer Daniels) and his parents Ida (Marianne Hagan – Stake Land) and Bud (Clay Wilcox) and their move to Bud’s childhood friend Waylon’s (the always great Brad Dourif) farm in a rural part of Kentucky after Bud lost his factory job. There is an almost immediate religious undercurrent to their family dealings with much talk about sin and prayer and the like. From outward appearances, it would seem like Waylon would be the more laid back, worldly male influence for Eli whereas his father was this uptight and hypocritical Bible-thumping type that pushed him away rather than shepherded him. This plays as a reoccurring theme through the first part of the film before things take a more supernatural turn.
One day while wandering in/around the forest nearby the farm, Eli meets teenage girl named Amanda (Alexia Fast) who seems all too eager to make a new friend. She is simple but not passive and the spark in her behaviour seems to both confuse and engage Eli. They establish a quick-friendship that shows signs of possible adolescent love right from the onset. I’d have a bigger gripe with this, but, teenagers tend to have these type of silly, instant relationships happen (especially sheltered teens) so it didn’t bother me too much.
Anyway, one thing leads to another and Eli mentions meeting Amanda to Waylon. This admission sets about the actions of the second half of the film which reveal not only the truth about the hunting accident we’re shown at the start but also the complex family issues that surround Waylon’s past as well as Eli’s parents and who Amanda really is. There is a fairly slow reveal as to Amanda’s origin and thankfully, blessedly, there aren’t any annoying flash cuts with what I like to call ‘spooky-face’ once things head creepy.
Through much of the film, the camera serves as a casual observer: to drift slowly through the high grass and around the trees and highlight each actor in elegant and lovely ways. There aren’t any aggressive zoom shots or hyper-active, headache inducing editing to disorient the viewer. I love that they remain consistent with this, even with a few supernatural happenings that could’ve brought that type of style change to certain scenes. The fact that they stay with the slower, measured camerawork throughout is definitely a credit to whomever made that decision – it makes it feel more connected, more natural and maintains a calm that would otherwise be lost.
I mentioned before that the film suffers from some narrative confusion heading towards the final act. Essentially you have a sweet, breezy kind of relationship between the two teens that runs headlong into sins of the past and makes for a sad sort of unraveling of the whole thing. Without giving anything away, I kind of feel like the film had a great idea to start with but got a little bogged down in the process of fleshing that idea out. It never breaks its own rules, per se’ but instead muddles through what should be a more striking reveal(s) when it all comes to a head.
That said, the film is absolutely lovely to look at, scored well and sports a great, dynamic performance by Brad Dourif. Oh, and in deference to pile-of-smarts writer Brian Collins, the font used in the credits (opening and closing) is really really nice and americana-ish looking. So if you’d like to downshift for an hour and change and watch a simple gothic ghost story, then seek out Last Kind Words.