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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [May 15, 2013]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Incest is an old topic for indie films, a genre known for tackling subjects regarded as "edgy" and "taboo." In Voyager it was a father and daughter. In Spanking the Monkey a mother and son. Last Look ups the ante, in that Bill (Josh Watson) sleeps with both his mother and his sister -- maybe even with two sisters.
"Last Look was written in 2008 during the financial collapse," the film's writer/director, Hernando Bansuelo, told the Hollywood Investigator. "A lot of anxiety and tension and malaise were in the air. During this time, it was revealed to me that one of my good male friends was having an incestuous relationship with his overbearing mother. It was shocking and bizarre. It scared me because I couldn't wrap my head around it. From this dark inspiration, I began writing the script, and adding as many real details as possible."
Last Look won Best Horror Film at the Independent Filmmaker's Showcase, yet your typical horror fan might be disappointed. The film is meditative, slow-paced, and filled with confusing symbolism and disjointed events. An admirer might say it evokes David Lynch. A detractor would call it artsy fartsy.
A slice of Hollywood gothic, Last Look is about an aging and delusional failed actress, Barbara (Jill Jacobson), clinging desperately to her son and lover. But will Bill dump mom for his sister? Not so much horror than Sunset Boulevard or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
"Yes, it was a surprise to us that we won Best Horror Film," Bansuelo admits. "I consider the film a psychological thriller or theatrical drama. I simply wanted to make a movie that scared me, where the monsters look like the family next door. It’s old fashioned in that sense. Grand Guignol style horror was certainly a touchstone. Zombies and ghouls have never affected me. And Barbara has a little Gloria Swanson in her, for sure."
The sister(s) are played by Betsy Beutler, which causes some confusion. In the version I saw, Bill picks up the sister in his car. Later, the sister hangs herself. Still later, she's back with him. Yet she seemed to have died in her hanging, which was an apparent flashback. Actually, there are quite a few reminiscences and flashbacks -- to childhood, and to early adulthood before the sister died (or left home). Time is all jumbled up.
Well, it turns out there were two sisters, both played by Beutler. Which I didn't get.
"These questions will be clarified in our next cut," said Bansuelo. "The same actress is playing two different sisters, Patty and Susan. Bill is sleeping with his mother and [both] sisters. We learned a tremendous amount from the audience -- test screenings are a must! We will have them for every feature we make."
Although the story is confusing and sometimes dull, Last Look has excellent production values in its photography, sound, set decor, and acting. The entire cast performs well. Beutler has an Adrienne Shelly quality -- petite and girlish, struggling intelligently while feeling overwhelmed by events.
But the long takes border on self-indulgent. David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick are also known their long, quiet, lingering shots, but it's a pitfall for many indie filmmakers, in that they can overdo it and lose viewers -- especially in an age of shortened attention spans.
"We made the film we wanted to make," said Bansuelo. "Lynch and Michael Haneke are geniuses that I love. Roman Polanski and his early work was a huge influence. His feature debut, Knife in the Water, was a major inspiration in regards to structure. The version you saw was the festival cut. We're prepping a new version, addressing some clarity and pacing issues, after our first public screening at the IFS Festival."
Bansuelo says the film's budget was "under $100,000. I financed most of it from donating my body to science. I was inspired by Robert Rodriguez and his El Mariachi beginnings. The rest was mostly credit cards." Last Look was "shot on the ARRI Alexa - 35mm digital" and edited on Final Cut Pro.
Bansuelo is a "full-time grad student" at USC's film school, but adds that Last Look is not a student film, but "a completely independent project," though many in his film's crew are fellow student.
"We still have a long list of festivals to hear back from, so there is no distribution history. But there has been some interest from several companies and we’re weighing our options."
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