Set in the trails of Australia's Blue Mountains, a group of bicyclists head out into the wilderness, unknowingly headed towards the last ride of their lives. Our point of view is that of James, who also happens to be the film's director, as he straps a helmet cam on himself to catch the action. Writer, Director, Actor, Cinematographer James Phillips delivers the entire 80 minute film in one continuous shot, giving the amateur footage vibe all the more authenticity.
Unlike countless other found footage films, the camera setup actually makes sense here. The wide angle lens is specifically designed for sports, so the aesthetic and the reason for bringing a camera are justified. Also unique is that the camera operator need not hold on to the camera. So when things get intense, the character can run, climb, and jump, since the camera is completely hands-free. So instead of asking, "Why does so-and-so keep filming?"; we ask, "Why would he bother to take the time to stop recording?" Any writer can tell you, giving the characters reasons to keep filming in a found footage film is challenging. Thankfully, Phillips avoided this problem.
One of the great things about this film is that it is quite literally experienced through the eyes of the characters. Precariously crawling through the foliage, the characters desperately want to know what is hiding in the woods, but are also afraid to look too closely. As the camera cautiously turns each corner and spins around to capture movement, the audience is holding its breath, experiencing surprise and anxiousness in the same way as the film's characters. I found myself leaning in to the screen and turning up the volume on my speakers, eager to discover what was hunting the group. This interactiveness was refreshing, as traditionally, we are aided by zooms and close-ups that cater to the viewer. Because we are not handed anything so easily in Last Ride, the film becomes more captivating.
On the other hand, one of the flaws of the movie is its simplicity. Much of the film is spent watching characters trek through the woods, with lots of "Did you hear that's?" and "Which way should we go's?" The three act structure that us movie fans have become accustomed to is hardly present here. With the exception of the beginning and the end, the film is pretty even -- giving us the same struggles, characterization, and visuals throughout the runtime. I would have personally liked to see more unique challenges thrown in the way of the bikers, which would have provided more opportunity for character development as well as a generally more enthralling experience for the mainstream moviegoer.