MOVIE REVIEW: Last Exit

"You know you're in trouble when death is the least of your problems," reads the tag-line for Last Exit, an indie crime/horror thriller produced in 2003 and now released on DVD by Heretic Films.

Directed by David Noel Bourke, this movie represents the final word (or is it the last exit?) in neo film noir, featuring editing so electric and a score so pulse-pounding, you're likely to convulse while watching the film.

Last Exit dramatizes the highly disturbing tale of Nigel (Morten Vagelius), a down-on-his luck fella eking out an existence in Copenhagen, Denmark. He's married to a heroin addict (who finds out, in short order, that she's pregnant...) and Nigel desperately needs a job.

In finding one, Nigel runs afoul of a gangland boss named "The President" (Pete Damm-Ottesen) and does a little, ostensibly simple task for him, storing fifty boxes of videotapes in his apartment for two weeks. After that job, Nigel commits to another job, and then another, until he finds himself getting into serious trouble when a new career move involves the abduction of a child...for a price tag of $50,000 dollars.

Meanwhile, Nigel engages in an adulterous affair with the gorgeous Tanya (Gry Bay) and concludes that their first encounter "was the best sex" he had in a very long time. Indeed, and she expects to be paid for it! A disappointed Nigel pays her $1,000.00 out of his stash of $10,000.00, while at home, his wife, Maria (Jette Philipsen), gets suspicious. She needs the money for drugs, after all...

From there, things just spiral and spiral...until a very dark (and bloody) climax.


Looking back as I write this review, I recollect some of the disturbing images in this film like they were seared into my subconscious. There are gaudy neon lights, dark mean streets, and a world of vice including porn and drugs. In one moment, a girl shoots up heroin (and slaps her leg before sticking the needle in...).

And this all occurs before the title card, Last Exit.

From there, things really get dark, and this movie views the assorted illicit goings-on with a blunt, straight face. In fact, director David Noel Burke adopts a dynamic technique throughout the film. Specifically, his probing camera is often perched uncomfortably close to his dramatis personae, as if we're literally invading their personal space in the frame. I mean, the camera is actually so near to Nigel and the other characters that their faces sometimes appear distorted. This telling choice in composition makes the term up close and personal take on a new meaning, as we want to look away from the drug use, the crime, the nihilism...but are forced to stare at it in almost claustrophobic clarity

Still, we get some relief in Last Exit from the garish Copenhagen underworld, and that relief comes in the forms of wicked humor and long monologues about Quantum Theory. On the former front, there's a scene in which Maria dresses seductively in a black nightie to get Nigel's attention, but he just wants to watch television. The camera then cuts to the TV, and it's nothing but a parade of dull, static-y images. But apparently, for Nigel anyway, even static is preferable to intercourse with the old ball-and-chain...

On the latter front, a drug dealer is introduced in the film who seems to put the meaninglessness of Nigel's life into perspective. The world, he suggests, is a complicated tissue of events in which connections of different kinds combine or alternate to form the context of the whole. And Nigel, says the drug dealer, is an "integral" part of the system.

The brutal closeness of Last Exit pays off in that we feel as though we're actually living in that dingy, filthy little apartment with Nigel and Maria. There's even one scene where Nigel takes a crap on the toilet in a tiny bathroom while talking on the phone, and the camera doesn't flinch. Then there's also a horribly vivid (and shocking...) scene involving a broken bottle and marital murder, followed by gory, bloody clean-up. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll puke...

I know that some critics have compared Last Exit to the films of Quentin Tarantino, but I'm not certain if that's apt. The cinematic works of Quentin Tarantino are distancing, in a sense, because of all the post-modern allusions and homages to other films. At some level, you don't take the violence seriously in Tarantino's works (like Kill Bill) , because you know that, in some fashion, it's just a movie that's playing with conventions of another movie, one that the auteur admires. Last Exit feels more real, more genuinely sleazy and human (and immediate...) than that. There's less emotional distance between characters and percipient, and therefore the film is nausea-provoking and highly disturbing. There are times I was tempted to look away from the events unfolding on screen, but could not.

This movie is so blunt - so in-your-face (literally...) - that it rocked me back on my heels. Tarantino's films don't do that. I admire them from an aesthetic, almost intellectual distance, marveling at how they fragment time, or mirror classic movies. A cutthroat film-noir filmed at point blank range, Last Exit is that rare gift: the real deal. It will take your breath away, but after a screening, you may want to go outside and look at the sun for a while. Or hug your wife. Or take a shower. Or do some other life-affirming activity. The film is impressive, especially given limitations of budget and other considerations, but it's also decidedly bleak...

To learn more about Last Exit, check out Heretic Films. I will be reviewing more of their films here over the next few weeks and months.

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