‘Last Straw’ Beyond Fest 2023 Review: A Stylish Look At The Worst Day Of Someone’s Life

Last Straw

Some days are living nightmares. Nothing goes right and it actively feels like the world is trying to make you cry. And then there is Nancy’s bad day in Alan Scott Neal’s directorial debut Last Straw. Neal’s tale about a frustrated young woman’s day from hell blossoms into a film about toxic masculinity and clashing personalities on the fringe of society. While the film isn’t always able to maintain its tension, Neal’s sense of style, its take on home invasion, and Jessica Belkin’s performance as Nancy make Last Straw worthy of a watch.

Nancy (Jessica Belkin) is a manager at her father’s (Jeremy Sisto) diner in a small town in the middle of nowhere. On this particular day, she learns she’s pregnant and her car breaks down on her way to her shift. When she gets there, she’s surrounded by rude line cooks who don’t want to listen to her. Plus, she’s constantly forced to deal with annoying teenager customers and creepy old men. Finally, she snaps and decides to try and regain some power in her life. But that’s a decision she’ll come to regret as a group of masked criminals attack the diner late at night.

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Then, Last Straw shifts focus to better explain the violence at hand and why this group of assailants are targeting Nancy. It’s an interesting choice to shift focus from Nancy to look at the attack in a new light, but it causes a massive break in tension. It also frustratingly removes agency from Nancy, who spends this whole movie trying to get just that. While I understand wanting to show both sides of violence and trying to understand it, particularly through the lens of toxic masculinity, breaking that tension ultimately hurts Last Straw.

But before that, Last Straw is an effective home invasion horror set in a restaurant, which is an incredibly clever decision from Neal. Simply moving the setting gives Neal way more options not just for violence, but for the film’s overall aesthetics. Neon lights flicker overhead, Nancy’s blue uniform stands out among the chrome detailing, and stainless steel appliances serve as cold contrast to the kitschy dining room. 

Belkin is a star as Nancy as she tries, in vain, to prove herself worthy of respect of the men around her. She is desperate for people to listen to her and take her seriously, so the only way she knows how to do that is through insults and fighting. Sure, Nancy isn’t handling conflict well, but she’s handling it how she knows best. Neal shows how patriarchy molds everyone into frustrated creatures desperately trying to feel heard and Belkin understands that assignment through and through. She’s sympathetic yet frustrating, a relatable young woman just trying to make it in her small town.

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Last Straw leans into gritty, exploitation film vibes with this violent rollercoaster ride, while also examining a world poisoned by toxic masculinity and warped expectations of what it means to be a man. Neal is creating a contemporary grindhouse film here, and is mostly successful with this gnarly version of the worst day of someone’s life.

Last Straw may not fully stick the landing, but Neal ultimately creates a tense experience about clashing personalities on the fringe of society. There’s a lot happening in the script that grapples with what it means to exist in a world that doesn’t care about you and what you’ll do to find some sort of control. Plus, Neal isn’t afraid to deep fry some skin and deliver some shocking kills. 



Last Straw may not fully stick the landing, but Neal ultimately creates a tense experience about clashing personalities on the fringe of society.



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