When filmmakers set out to make their first full-length feature “a high quality film”, intended as “a dark and sometimes disturbing comment on society and relationships”, with “a low budget, guerrilla style”, you may be excused for wondering whether plot originality is going to be their main concern. So, what does director David Noel Bourke’s screenplay offer us? Two young junkies trying to clear their debts, an underworld boss replete with shaved head, the obligatory nymphomaniac eye candy, a surprise pregnancy that leads to a female antagonist revaluating her life, and an illegal gangland transaction that goes awry. Nothing new here, but when one senses a feeling of déjà vu throughout the film’s entire running time, with scenes replicating events from a plethora of cult movies that include BLUE VELVET, DON’T LOOK NOW, LOST HIGHWAY, PERFORMANCE, SCARFACE, SHALLOW GRAVE, THE EVIL DEAD, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and TRAINSPOTTING, the term plagiarism springs to mind.
In fact, LAST EXIT, (even the title appears to have been lifted from Uli Edel’s 1989 film of Hubert Selby, Jr.'s LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, itself a dark, disturbing comment on society and relationships, involving violent gangland activity, a female antagonist with an out of control libido, a surprise pregnancy, and drug fuelled sex sessions), with it’s pumping soundtrack consisting of jazzy electronic dance, dizzy camera angles, and use of red strobe effects accompanying the films scenes of sex and violence, are all techniques that have been used to far greater effect in recent films by the likes of Gaspar Noe, Danny Boyle, and Lindsay Anderson.
Because of this I was even more disappointed with a viewing of LAST EXIT due to the fact that buried beneath the borrowing (no doubt intended as tribute) there’s actually some sterling talent on display. The script itself concerns the fragile relationship between a naïve ex-con called Nigel (Morten Vogelius) and Maria (Jette Philipsen) whose marital affairs have taken a downward spiral due to their individual drug dependency - he’s an alcoholic, and she’s a junkie - and financial pressure from moneylenders. So, when a chance presents itself for Nigel to make some apparently easy money, using his lodgings as a temporary safe house for stolen goods, he jumps at the chance. Unbeknownst to Nigel, Maria’s smack habit is out of control, and any money that he manages to scrape together ends up as hypodermic fodder, leading Nigel to undertake riskier jobs from a mobster called The President (Peter Ottesen).
In order to keep tabs on Nigel, The President encourages one of his working girls, Tanya (Gry Bay) to accompany him. With his sex-life solely consisting of watching hi-tech porn movies by the likes of Lizzy Borden, Nigel quickly falls for the doe-eyed charms of sex-kitten Tanya, and the two embark on a self-destructive shagging spree that has far reaching complications for all around them.
Bourke’s script is filled with believable street talk, and the characterisations are convincing enough. Solid screen-time is given over to the flirtatious dialogue between lovers Nigel and Tanya, but the best lines go to Nicholas Sherry’s philosophic acid-head dealer, Jimmy, whose ruminations on quantum physics, and the meaning of life offer light relief to random acts of violence that include a vicious beating to one of The President’s employees, a failed suicide attempt, and gory dismemberment by chainsaw.
Also noteworthy is the claustrophobic cinematography by Andre Moulin that captures the underbelly of Copenhagen’s seamier side decisively. Moulin also undertakes the editing chores, and his love for the exploitation genre is much in evidence too, with the end product resembling the bastard offspring of Tobe Hooper, Sam Raimi, and Michael Ninn.
The performances, for such a low budget production are exemplary; particularly memorable is Gry Bay’s sexy portrayal of the archetypical seducer from Hell, whose doe-eyes, and whiney “Do you want to come to bed with me?” flirtations would test the fidelity of the monogamous amongst us. A pity that the sex scenes shot between her and Morten are so polished, appearing like unwholesome MTV videos, encumbered with innumerable camera angles, and a deafening soundtrack. Equally fine is the understated turn by Jette Philipsen as Nigel’s wife, whose spaced-out demeanour is especially haunting.
Moreover, when one realises that this entire production was shot on DV tape in 18 days on moody location backdrops including Copenhagen’s notorious Istedgade district, and bohemian Christiana commune (whose de facto autonomy is now under threat with Denmark’s recent appointment of right wing politicians to parliament), with a budget of a mere 10,000 DKK (under £1,000), the end product is impressive.
If this show is representative of the standard they set, Bourke, Moulin, and their hardworking ensemble deserve to make a name for themselves, but next time round I hope the filmmakers will dispense with the cinematic adulations to all and sundry and give us more of the original talent they undoubtedly possess.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by David Noel Bourke
A Last Exit production