Now, now, and now: don’t think that I’ve necessarily bought into the whole ‘climate change’ bunk as nothing could be further from the truth. No, the science is not settled people – is science ever truly settled to begin with? – and there’s not this huge consensus saying that we’re collectively headed toward catastrophe. Frankly, I’m of the opinion that you and I don’t have the ability to impact something as massively colossal as dear Mother Earth, and I think it’s almost damn silly that there are those who’ve been ”educated” to think otherwise. Yes, I’ll concede that we should exercise a modicum of care when balancing the good, the bad, and the ugly with our planet, but thinking whether or not you shut off the light when you left the house last night – and what possible impact that’ll have on tomorrow’s temperature – is pure folly, and I’m ashamed to be a part of a generation that thinks otherwise.
In any event, there’s this great subgenre of Science Fiction and Fantasy that’s dealt with Extinction-Level-Events (ELEs) for quite some time – honestly, they’ve been around as long as storytellers have – and I’ve been smitten with a great number of them. 2023’s Last Sentinel – directed by Tanel Toom and written by Malachi Smyth – arguably won’t be the first nor the last to postulate that the flood levels are on-the-rise, but it does (thankfully) pretty much back-burner the ecological causes in favor of delivering what’s mostly a locked-box mystery. Instead, the focus here is on the drama of both the global aftermath as well as the psychological struggles awaiting such survivors; and – on that front – it achieves a measure of success.
Sadly, it may not be all that memorable – good production qualities and reasonable performances aside – but as a momentary distraction? A Saturday night at the movies? Well, I’m happy to say that it works just fine so long as you don’t try to think too deeply about the villain’s mission. If you do, then you run the risk of the whole affair getting all wet.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“A platoon of soldiers are stranded in an abandoned military base on a near future Earth waiting for the relief or the enemy, whichever comes first.”
Rest assured, readers, that 1995’s seminal Waterworld was never in any danger of being unseated as the king of ApocalypseLand set at sea; and – if 2023’s Last Sentinel is any indication – no one’s really coming close to treading water alongside the Kevin Costner vehicle, even if some might find the comparison ineffectual. Granted, these two films may have little in common in their respective foundations, but they could co-exist in some grand fabric of screen reality, though the tale of Costner’s ‘Mariner’ would most likely take place in the distant future in order for so many myths about DryLand to be truly appreciated the way a good Fantasy potboiler could. Sentinel is set a scant 40 years after today, making it a more believable diversion for those who prefer their ‘End Times’ grounded as close to reality as possible.
Stripping away any veneer gained from Science Fiction, what remains in Sentinel is really more of a conventional thriller that just happens to be set at sea: a not-so-tight-knit group of soldiers have been taxed to their psychological limits when the replacement crew for their three-year-tour-of-duty aboard a floating military installation fails to show up as scheduled. Despite sitting atop the wide, wide ocean blue, the film benefits from a heavy dose of claustrophobia – grim colors, tight spaces, etc. – as these four tortured souls have nothing better to do but follow orders and monitor an endless horizon for survivors as the war to end all wars has been lost, with Mother Nature claiming the biggest share of the casualties. Cut off from civilization and limited to a structured and bare bones daily Morse Code exchange with command, they truly feel like the last folks alive on Planet Earth, and the strain on their reality has begun to show itself in frighteningly homicidal ways.
The sighting of a crewless ship adrift presents the group with a catalyst for change: was it formerly manned by their relief, and – if so – what Fate befell them on the high seas? Were they lost in some unanticipated attack or did they somehow just merely vanish? The mystery as presented eventually gets discarded when two of the fractured crew – Sullivan (played by Lucien Laviscount) and Baines (Martin McCann) – decide that ‘enough is enough’ and opt to commandeer the ship and abandon their posts. When their commanding officer Hendrichs (Thomas Kretschmann) counters by eventually destroying the boat so that the potential mutineers and Cassidy (Kate Bosworth) remain on the platform, he unintentionally begins a battle of wills that only corrodes their unity further to the point wherein sanity is no longer in fashion.
While Sentinel works well as a conventional thriller with only a distant Fantasy backdrop (as I said above, I do so love a good Apocalypse), director Toom fails to keep his thriller afloat through both some of its quieter moments as well as its last reel twist.
Still, Sentinel operates very well on its lean and mean efficiency. These characters maintain and shift alliances based on some seemingly natural developments over the film’s near 120-minute run-time; and the players do seem to have a good deal of fun in a world that’s already spun vastly out of control and is populated by those unfortunate few who survived the doom (but not the gloom). Kretschmann has always been a favorite B-player of mine; and this might very well be the best I’ve seen from Bosworth in quite some time. Classically, they’re all anti-heroes quartered away from whatever remains beyond the ocean; and none of them are disillusioned that ‘good times’ are just right around the corner. As a consequence, they’ve embraced the grimness of their predicament, and it shows. So, as apocalypses go, this one works well in those dark waters.
Last Sentinel (2023) was produced by Allfilm, Altitude Film Entertainment, BR / Arte, CrossDay Productions Ltd., Head Gear Films, and a few other participants. (A full listing of partners – if you’re interested – is available on IMDB.com.) A quick Google.com search suggests that the film is presently available for streaming and/or purchase from a wide variety of platforms including Prime Video, Apple TV, Tubi, Vudu, and more. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the provided sights and sounds were very good; there are a few sequences that – rather obviously – were achieved with greenscreen technology, but that’s a small price to pay for a decent visual here and there. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? As I viewed this one via streaming, there were no special features under consideration.
Far too many films these days rely on the twist ending, and – for what that’s worth – Last Sentinel’s is just not that revelatory to make it worth the weight of its impact. In fact, the more I think about what Smyth’s script did with an exceedingly small cast – and one secret identity – the less sense all of it made. Asking for the audience to do a measure of the heavy lifting is okay, but the mental gymnastics required for this turn of events to make any perfect sense ought to be a crime. While the performances work just fine, Sentinel lacked the weight necessary to keep it afloat – if that makes any sense – and this one sinks depending upon whether or not you feel you’ve been cheated in the last act. (Tip: I felt I was, but you may feel otherwise.)
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that I’m beholden to no one for my review of Last Sentinel (2023) as I watched this one via a streaming platform of which I’m a subscriber.