By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
Over the past few decades, Quentin Tarantino has become something of a master at telling an incredibly compelling, entertaining story set entirely in one location. Films such as The Hateful Eight, for example, exist not only as mysteries but as unique and thoughtful character pieces, as well as retaining the thriller elements that Tarantino is known for.
The Last Stop in Yuma County is a film that premieres at this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, and shared many similarities with some of Tarantino’s work. The film follows a traveling knife salesman, who remains nameless even in the credits beyond that title, who finds himself stranded at a diner after his car runs out of gas. Waiting for the fuel truck to arrive, the salesman quickly finds himself in a prickly situation as a pair of dangerous bank robbers come into the restaurant and take the diner hostage. What happens after that would be considered a spoiler, but these proceedings continue to escalate to the point that the film becomes a heart-pounding, emotional thriller roller coaster.
The knife salesman is played by the excellent Jim Cummings, who avid film watchers may know from indie movies such as Thunder Road, The Beta Test, and The Wolf of Snow Hollow. Cummings, who often writes and directs his son work, is just in the actor’s chair this time, and in a very different role from some of his previous work. There isn’t as much humor or sarcasm infused in Cummings’ character as his hero in The Wolf of Snow Hollow, for example, and what replaces that is an eery sense of mystery as the audience doesn’t truly know him all that well.
Cummings is far from the only character in the diner, however, as he’s joined by the criminals, a waitress, and a few other travelers who unknowingly wander into this dangerous situation. These characters all work together to form a quirky, unusual ensemble that serve to the story as a ticking time bomb. The longer that this group of people are in the same room together, the more danger they are all in.
That building of tension is one of the best aspects of The Last Stop in Yuma County. The events keep building and building towards a climax, and every time it appears as if that big moment has arrived, the story continues and it somehow escalate even further. That means that the story takes many unexpected twists and turns, which helps to keep the film fresh and add to its uniqueness once again. The story goes so far beyond the aforementioned premise, and eventually becomes an incredibly deep and personal piece on the risky and potentially harmful decisions that humans can make.
The thematic nature of the story, especially as it develops towards the end of the film (and as it pertains to the knife salesman) makes this film a memorable watch as well. The Last Stop in Yuma County succeeds in virtually all areas, from a period piece (the film is set in the 1960s), to a pulpy and suspenseful thriller, to a deeply thematic and complex story on the human race, as well as how quickly things can turn. Much of this comes from the excellent writing and direction of Francis Gallupi, who helms the film with an elegance and grace that makes it one of the best of the year thus far.
If there is a criticism to be had of The Last Stop in Yuma County, it’s that the film heads in such a dark direction that the story feels particularly heavy and bleak come the end. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the whole point of the direction of the story appears to be to show the morals (or lack thereof) of human beings in situations such as this, but it does take away from the overall enjoyment just a little bit.
The Last Stop in Yuma County is one of the strongest films of 2023 so far. Premiering at Fantastic Fest, the film features the incredible Jim Cummings, an actor who is well known on the indie scene and brings his usual precision and excellence to this film. The work of writer/director Francis Galluppi is another highlight of the film, as the tension builds rapidly and in a suspenseful manner.