By: John M Jerva
Action movies are in a league of their own. They are regarded as a religion to many and if you’re on the outside looking, then you’ll never fully understand why so many of us indulge in these violent works of escape art. Most will never win any awards at the Oscars but who cares because it’s the fans that make the genre breath and live and when done with passion, indie action cinema can be a real treat.
The new action-thriller Last Man Down knows what kind of film it is and make no mistake, this one throws it in your face with a bruising new action star that is a definite homage to icons like Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Former bodybuilding champ Daniel Stisen isn’t a household name but after this movie, he should be and especially with genre fans as he has come to play.
Helmed by award winning filmmaker Fansu Njie, Last Man Down has a simple plot and one that’s been seen many times before and is most relevant today with everything that’s been going on although it’s a good thing life isn’t imitating art here. A virus has decimated all of Europe and probably the world and the last surviving remnants now live in villages across the land. Merciless armies ravage the land and play judge, jury and executioner when needed or when they feel it’s needed.
The ruthless mercenary force is led by the even more ruthless Commander Stone (Daniel Nehme) who have taken it upon themselves to eradicate those they feel are infected. It’s important to mention that they really don’t care if you’re infected or not. If they have a gut feeling that you are, you’re numbers up.
Enter former spec ops soldier John Wood. Played with brooding ferocity by Daniel Stisen, he has abandoned that lifestyle after Stone mercilessly executed his wife because he felt Wood let a bunch of villagers go. After that tragic turn of events, Wood escapes and proceeds to live out his days as a hermit in the Nordic woods. Think of him as a cross between Rambo and Paul Bunyan with a splash of John Matrix.
Wood is happy enough in his solitude chopping wood but one faithful night, a young woman named Maria (Olga Kent) stumbles upon his cabin and being injured, John takes it upon himself to help nurse her back to health. He knows she’s trouble but he reluctantly takes her in. It’s in his nature to help even when he knows that distinct trouble is coming to knock down his door as a direct result.
Trouble she definitely is as she’s a very important woman who holds the key to developing an antidote for the virus and she’s a target that Stone and his men want back at all costs. Not because they want to help humanity but because they want to help themselves. Like I said, this plot line has been done many times but I can never get enough of them so bring it on.
Wood is now thrust into a barbaric fight for survival as an army of killers descends on his cabin looking for Maria and the two join forces to take the fight to them with weapons and sheer will. This pits Stone, who is just as formidable physically as our protagonist, and Wood on a collision course with each other as the battle lines have been drawn and the country side is about to be stained with blood.
Last Man Down is simple in its plot and execution and even though it’s rough around the edges it’s a B indie good time and action fans should still find enjoyment with the relentless sequences of bullets and body count. Stisen is a stoic man and he spends most of the movie groaning and growling but this is part of his charm. He’s a hulking specimen that radiates intimidation and as John Wood, Stisen is all business and business is good.
In terms of supporting players, Maria and Stone are pretty much it but there are a few others like Stanislav Yanevski and Madeleine Vall who are part of Stone’s crew that get a chance to leave a mark but that’s essentially the cast except for the numerous faceless goons that are essentially lambs to Wood’s slaughter. The acting is what you’d expect and there are some thick accents but it’s the action we’ve all come here to see and in that department, it delivers.
The first forty five minutes is a slow burn and even though there’s a few bloody altercations, the first half of the movie is essentially Wood and Maria cozying up to each other as the potential danger looms close. We get scenes of them bonding and such but if you can get past that and the necessary plot and character building, then the second half is the real payoff.
The last forty five minutes is the real movie as Stone’s men make their major assault on Wood and Maria and it is a satisfying kill zone of throwback mayhem with Stisen doing his best impersonation of John J. Rambo as he uses the forest and elements to his advantage. Our fearless one man army gears up in tactical gear glory, immerses himself in war paint and arms himself to the teeth as Maria proves also that she’s anything but a damsel in distress as she runs and guns right alongside Wood.
Wood dispatches his victims with bravado as he uses guns, knives, bow and arrows, axes and more as he turns his mountainside retreat into one humongous death trap as countless baddies are mowed down in true 80’s fashion while Maria gives as good as she has gotten demonstrating that she’s a force to be reckoned with as well. She’s definitely not your typical damsel by any stretch of the imagination.
This all culminates in one final firefight as Wood leads Stone’s men into a large bunker located underground. The bunker becomes a gleeful kill box as Wood and Maria make a last ditch stand making the body count rise even more with endless rounds of ammo dispensed. It’s a definite highlight of the movie and it’s equally effective as the muzzle flashes of the weapons light up an otherwise dark environment giving the battle a surreal look to the proceedings.
With a name like Last Man Down, viewers just know that there will be the eventual man a mano showdown between a wounded Wood and Stone. There’s even a twist in history to the two men of war which escalates the proceedings and through a knock down, drag out brawl there is indeed one man standing. The choreography is simple and bone cracking with each opponent going back and forth with sound effects where you can hear and feel each hit. Stisen even screams the film’s title which makes it even more of a guilty pleasure of indie action goodness.
The ending is a bit of a mystery as it is left open to a follow up and the inclusion of another antagonist played by Natassia Malthe of the BloodRayne films. Her role is a cameo but it sets up the proceedings if there is a sequel to be had. It would appear that she’s the real villain here and she gets to have the last speech of the movie as she outlines a survival of the fittest motif and it will be interesting to see where it goes if we get another entry.
Overall, Last Man Down is as advertised. A bruising throwback action film that pays homage to films like Rambo and Commando and fans will definitely see the winks and nudges that is meant for serious action aficionados. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but that’s OK as the action is plentiful and relentless with Stisen leading the charge and he is sheer brute force personified. He’s got what it takes for action set pieces and his dominating physical presence is tailor made for a movie like this. Kent is a pleasant surprise as well as she channels her inner action goddess and has just as much fun getting in in the action as Stisen does.
With this film, you should simply turn your brain off and enjoy the carnage in its well shot action sequences and at a brisk 87 minutes, it never overstays its welcome. From the get go, this one just screamed throwback action movie with some pulsating looking action sequences and if this movie came out in the 80’s and 90’s it probably would have hit theaters. The last barrage of action should satisfy those looking for a fun Saturday night viewing and with the massive body count, Last Man Down delivers as promised…unapologetic throwback action with a 2021 pandemic tinge to it.