Young Abigail Tate’s mother and father drop her off for her first day of daycare at a seemingly nice couple’s home, never suspecting what she will fall victim to there when sordid secrets are revealed in the Canadian horror/drama short The Last Bastard. The film slowly unravels its mysteries and builds to an impactful climax.
Writer/director Ashley Fester presents a story set in 1979 on the Canadian Prairies. Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds (Tom Edwards and Janice Ryan, respectively), who run the center, have a recurring problem with crows constantly flying into their windows and dying, leaving bloody messes on the panes. This phenomenon turns out to be the least of the couple’s problems, though, as there is a dark underbelly to their cheerful, middle class world.
The events of the film take place in broad daylight and in mostly well-lit rooms in the Reynolds’ spacious home; Ashley Fester’s brightly colored visuals work in tandem with the shadowy secrets of her screenplay. She also uses different techniques very impressively, including simulating home movie footage and still photos for both flashbacks and scenes in the present. Cinematographer Shawn Seifert captures Fester’s vision marvelously. I was particularly struck by a shot in which May (Kristen Rain-Kootenay), the Reynolds’ illegally adopted Aboriginal daughter, wipes crow’s blood off a window while an uneasy Mr. Reynolds peers through it.
One of the strongest points of The Last Bastard is the outstanding acting on display. Tom Edwards is chilling as the husband who constantly watches the children through windows or the lens of a home movie camera, and Janice Ryan shows off a wide range of emotions as his in-denial wife. Brynn Huber is superb in a wordless performance as little Abigail Tate, conveying so much through her amazing facial expressions. The other actors, children and adults alike, also give memorable performances.
Ashley Fester’s costume design perfectly captures the look of the late seventies, and Helen Fester’s set design makes the house feel like it is full of secrets. Christopher Clark’s sound design is noteworthy, as well. Radio talk shows discussing both sides of the issue of children in daycare vs. children staying at home with mothers play in both the Tate family’s car and the Reynold’s home, and the Scottish children’s song “Three Craws (Three Crows)” opens and closes the film. Interestingly the children are silent throughout the film except for one line spoken by May.
The Last Bastard (littleonepictures.ca) has a Canadian historical focus behind it but viewers don’t need to be familiar with the era in which it’s set to enjoy this dark drama. The film stands on its own as a story that makes viewers uncomfortable and upset about the Reynolds, their unforgivable actions, and the events that transpire, and it also offers social commentary that transcends historical periods and national borders. It made me interested in learning more about the Sixties Scoop era of Canadian history – which I had never heard of before seeing this short – and it may well do the same for you.
The Last Bastard screened at the Scream Queen Filmfest Tokyo tour event in Nagoya, Japan, in February 2016.
The Last Bastard: (4.5 / 5)