A wildly fun and unexpected thrill ride, “The Last Stop in Yuma County” boasts a stellar cast, strong direction, and an outstanding score.
Billed as an action-packed Western crime thriller, The Last Stop in Yuma County from writer/director Francis Galluppi in his feature film debut surprised me in the best possible way.
I fell in love with the film from the opening frame, set against a stunning desert backdrop with gorgeous color grading and a sumptuous, nail-biting score.
Set during the 1960s, the film follows a traveling knife salesman (played by the always infinitely watchable Jim Cummings, The Wolf of Snow Hollow). On his way home from a sales trip, he stops to get gas at a station in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, the gas bumps are dry, the delivery is running late, and there’s not another station for 100 miles.
The attendant, Vernon (Faizon Love, Friday, Elf), suggests the unnamed salesman wait in the diner next door until the delivery arrives.
At first, the salesman insists he’d rather wait in his car. He turns on the radio and hears a bulletin about a recent bank robbery and two robbers on the run in a green Pinto.
Meanwhile, a sheriff’s vehicle pulls up to the diner, and Sheriff Charlie (Michael Abbott Jr., The Dark and the Wicked) drops off his wife, Charlotte (the amazing Jocelin Donahue from Ti West’s The House of the Devil), for her waitressing shift.
As the salesman tries to find a song on the radio, he lands on the lovely jazzy instrumental tune Love is Blue by Paul Mauriat. The song plays over scenes of a wrecked, overturned truck in the desert with a dead driver before the stylish title screen.
The retro aesthetic is stunning, and the details of the era are meticulously captured in every impressive frame.
After the cold opening, the salesman decides to exit the car and wait inside the diner.
He’s the only customer, and Charlotte is working a solo shift — the two strike up a conversation. Charlotte asks to hear the sales pitch for the knives, and the salesman awkwardly tries to recite his speech while she sweetly encourages him.
Shortly afterward, another car pulls up to the gas station. It’s a green Pinto with two men inside, Beau (the brilliant Richard Brake, 31) and Travis (Nicholas Logan, I Care a Lot). Just like the salesman, the men are advised to wait it out in the diner.
As the two men enter, the salesman notices the car they are driving. The fact that it’s the exact vehicle used in the robbery, combined with their suspicious and unwelcoming demeanors, is enough reason for Charlotte to call her husband.
But an on-edge Beau suspects something is up and pulls a gun on her, instructing her to hang up and join the salesman at the table.
In the midst of a tense standoff, the diner slowly begins to fill up with other stranded drivers and passers-by.
This includes an older couple, Robert (Gene Jones) and Earline (Robin Bartlett), a somewhat goofy deputy, Gavin (Connor Paolo, Stake Land), sent for coffee by the Sheriff, a young wannabe Bonnie and Clyde couple, Miles (Ryan Masson) and Sybil (Sierra McCormick), a Native American local, Pete (Jon Proudstar, Reservation Dogs, The Year of the Dog), and the gas station attendant, Vernon.
The first hour of the film is an intense barn burner that culminates in a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat climax.
During this time, the film pulls off a remarkable tonal balancing act, managing to be consistently funny and whimsical — without ever being hokey or over-the-top — while also legitimately tense and gripping.
A slow-motion montage of the guests in the diner passing the time while scheming about their next move, all set to the tune of Roy Orbison’s Crying playing on the jukebox, is absolutely masterful and one of my favorite moments of the film.
The last half hour of The Last Stop in Yuma County shifts gears in an unexpected way, becoming darker and more intensified, with a jaw-dropping plot twist that I won’t dare spoil here.
The ending is unhinged, which I say with high praise, as it really blew me away and knocked its huge curveball out of the park.
The film is anchored by stellar performances all around, including a great minor role by horror icon Barbara Crampton as a welcome bit of comic relief and a brief but important appearance by the exceptional Alex Essoe (The Haunting of Bly Manor, Starry Eyes, Doctor Sleep).
The final shot is extraordinary and not at all what I expected.
The Last Stop in Yuma County is so much more fun and exuberant than I expected, but it also more than delivers in terms of bleak and brutal action — a real standout gem from a festival known for its smart, stellar, subversive genre content.