Thursday, March 23, 2023

Tanel Toom’s Last Sentinel

In lighthouse and deep-sea oil rig movies and series, like The Vanishing and The Rig, characters often feel like the rest of the world might have disappeared, leaving them stranded forever. For the rag-tag crew aboard this post-apocalyptic ocean fort, that is a very real possibility. Their relief is distressingly late and some of them are starting to act a little stir crazy in Tanel Toom’s Last Sentinel, which opens this Friday in theaters.

The seas have risen, but the two tiny surviving nations remain perpetually at war. It is just four of them manning this remote, seabound military outpost (modeled on WWII Britain’s Maunsell forts), but Sgt. Hendrichs will not let any of them slack off. Cpl. Cassidy tries to be an intermediary between him and the grunts, Sullivan and Baines, but it isn’t easy. Their relief is way, way overdue, but when a ship finally arrives, unannounced, it is a cause of concern rather than relief. In fact, Hendrichs almost uses the fort’s super weapon to blow them all up.

That would have been a mistake, but the empty vessel is still disconcerting. At least it isn’t full of rats, like in
Three Skeleton Key. It also holds some supplies, as well as a good deal of mystery. Regardless, it is still a sea-worthy ship, but Hendrichs is not about to let the squad abandon their post.

The basic concept of this
Waterworld-like world is familiar, but the execution of the Estonian Toom (an Oscar nominee for the short film, The Confession) is notably strong. The initial encounter with the derelict ship is surprisingly tense, as are several subsequent sequences. The isolated setting is definitely eerie and the spartan set design is highly effective. It all looks great, but unfortunately, some of screenwriter Malachi Smythe later plot points stretch credibility.

The four principals are all solid, including the glammed down Kate Bosworth, who believably passes as a no-nonsense enlisted soldier. Thomas Kretschmann is at his best, as the tightly wound NCO. Lucien Laviscount broods hard as Sullivan, while Martin McCann is spectacularly twitchy as Baines, the ultra-erratic engineer.

Wisely, Toom does not belabor the environmental aspects of the watery dystopia. There is some double-talk about Estonia playing a major role in whatever happened, which does not really make much sense, but that reflects the film’s status as an Estonian co-production. Regardless,
Last Sentinel overachieves as a claustrophobic end-of-the-world thriller, largely thanks to Toom skillful direction and some terrific design work. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic movies, Last Sentinel opens this Friday (3/24) in theaters.