Fantastic Fest 2023 Review: THE LAST STOP IN YUMA COUNTY, Lovely Little Genre Exercise That Grows Too Big
The feature debut of writer/director Francis Galluppi makes the most of its single location setting for most of its runtime, and only falters when it takes steps to leave that place behind.
That place is a sizable diner attached to a combination gas station and motel in Arizona on a fine day sometime in the 1970s. The diner’s inhabitants include a mild-mannered traveling knife salesman, an elderly couple from Texas, the "prettiest waitress in town" (whose husband just happens to be the sheriff), and a pair of bank robbers. All of these people, except for the waitress, are stuck at this diner because the gas station is out of gas and awaiting the arrival of a fuel truck.
It’s a simple set-up, variations of which have been done often, but Galluppi’s direction and the actors’ performances make The Last Stop in Yuma County a thrilling and enjoyable, if not entirely unique, neo-Western.
Galluppi and cinematographer Mac Fisken make interesting shot choices from the opening image: an extended static shot from the gas station, looking out at the empty road, and not cutting until we see a car drive over a distant hill and come to a stop in the station. That willingness to let the camera sit and take in an image combines wonderfully with shots of natural light flowing into the diner through open blinds, stark shadows cast in the blaring Arizona sun, and some classic Western vistas.
Throughout The Last Stop in Yuma County (the name of the gas station/motel/diner), Gallupi moves the camera deliberately through the indoor and outdoor areas of the stop to emphasize the spatial relationships between people and places with particular attention to various characters’ sight lines. The emphasis on what characters can and cannot see allows for some fantastically orchestrated suspense sequences, any of which might develop from an innocuous observation to a multi-fatality incident.
At the center of that tension are the bank robbers, Travis (Nicholas Logan) and Beau (Richard Brake), men who may or may not be brothers but, beyond their criminality, could not be more different.
Travis is big, loud, and a bit dumb, while Beau is wiry, soft-spoken, and keenly observant. Brake is (as usual) brilliant. There’s no doubt that he’s the brains of the operation from the moment the two appear on screen, but what’s more is that there’s no doubt about his willingness to dispatch anyone who stands between him and his money and freedom. Brake is a master of quiet menace and brings that ability to bear as Beau when, several times throughout the film, he calmly explains to the other diners what is going to happen while pointing a gun directly at someone’s head.
Over the course of The Last Stop in Yuma County, some other characters, including a deputy and the proprietor of the gas station and motel, come through the diner, bringing with them possiblities of the inevitable violent outburst. But instead of the requisite close calls feeling as though they’re just another genre checkbox, the film establishes early on that we do not know how this story will play out. Several characters are smarter, dumber, and braver than we might expect, leading to a climax that offers multiple twists and turns within the course of minutes, and manages to be equally hilarious and tense.
In its final moments, The Last Stop in Yuma County moves outside the titular last stop, introduces some unnecessary characters, and generally goes beyond the small scale, fantastically suspenseful set-up that’s made it such a success up to that point. The ending isn’t bad, just not up to the quality of what’s come before. But if this movie is any indication of what’s in store from Galluppi, I can’t wait to see what he does next.
The film enjoys its world premiere at Fantastic Fest.