The Last Halloween, the latest short from Canadian filmmaker Marc Roussel, opens with shots of blazing orange windows in a dilapidated house; the windows resemble the carved eyes of a jack-o-lantern penetrating the gloomy darkness surrounding the building. It’s a striking introduction to the surprisingly bleak tale about to unfold, and a great moment to introduce a troop of creepy trick-or-treaters who are out for one last night of fun in the ramshackle neighborhood.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where citizens cower in fortified homes sheltered from the devastation of plague. Four costumed children — a ghost, a witch, a devil, and death — roam the wasteland hoping for one last haul of goodies before the end of days. Along the way they encounter survivors who, whether cautious or crazed, are equally as frightening without the aid of masks and makeup. Each resident visited by the children greets them with varying degrees of mistrust as one might expect when resources are scarce.
Roussel, who made the terrific Remote (2010), delivers work more ambitious than one could hope from a short film. The film thrives on the richly-detailed atmosphere of a ravaged environment, an incredibly unique context in which to explore an age old tradition. The premise works exceptionally well despite how jarring the juxtaposition of Halloween pastime is within a post-apocalyptic world. It’s to the credit of Roussel and his team that the concept never feels forced, and though organic may not be the right word choice, effective is appropriate. The triumph is in the convincing design of the devastated landscape and a tightly woven story to place within it.
Kudos must be give to the Director of Photography, Michael Jari Davison, whose masterful work brings considerable creepiness and surprising beauty to the screen. Equally impressive is prosthetic work created by The Butcher Shop used to maximum effect in the film’s chilling and downbeat climax. Their contributions raise the level of this film from a clever idea to something wholly immersive and frightening.
The underlying message we can take from Roussel’s film is that, whether good or bad, traditions die hard. Here, we find the reeling spirit of Halloween kicking and screaming until nothing short of the end of the world can take it down. I can only speculate that the film plays as testimony to Roussel and co-writer Mark Thibodeu’s own love for the holiday, one that sadly loses its flourish with each passing year. The season’s sorrowful death would doubtless be trumpeted by these four trick-or-treaters of the apocalypse.
Director: Marc Roussel
Writer(s): Marc Roussel, Mark Thidodeau
Cast: Julian Richings, Jake Goodman, Drew Davis, Ron Basch