Writer-Director Cédric Jouarie’s The Very Last Day is a captivating puzzle of a film. The first half of this Taiwanese film plays out like a domestic drama, while the second half flips the tale on its head, veering into thriller territory. It’s a credit to the film that this progression feels natural and the whole piece works well as a cohesive bit of storytelling. The Very Last Day is very much a film for the MeToo era – it’s a story of sexual assault and how it impacts those affected. It would have packed a punch five or ten years ago, but it resonates even more clearly now. Odd perhaps as well that it’s a film hailing from Taiwan and not the United States of America.
Lawrence Ong is Raymond, a successful novelist celebrating the release of his latest book. On the outside things are looking good for the author but the marriage to Viola (Heng-Yin Chou) is crumbling now that his daughter (Meng-Hsueh Lee) has moved away to school. Things take a turn when an enthusiastic Melanie (Wei-Yi Lin) keeps appearing but if Stephen King’s Misery has taught us anything, it’s that the relationship between authors and their fans can be a very complicated one.
The Very Last Day is a film made with deft precision and crafted in a very particular way – the first hour is a dramatic piece which slowly unfolds, but it hints of things to come. Brief flashes of a subplot, something which may be a flashback to previous events or they might actually be moments ripped from of Raymond’s latest novel. However, The Very Last Day hints at things to come as Devin Anderson Wiley’s Hitchcockian score belies the darker elements which have yet to be revealed.
The film’s second half moves the plot steadily along and its only then when we get to unravel the film’s central mystery – at this point everyone’s motivation and character comes into the light. The aforementioned reference to Misery was deliberate as the film takes a much darker turn, with Wei-Yi Lin’s Melanie taking centre stage when her deeply personal connection to Raymond’s recent publication is exposed. This second half also has shades of David Slade’s 2005 film Hard Candy, a film which sees Ellen Page turn the tables on Patrick Wilson’s paedophile.
Where The Very Last Day really shines is in the performances. The entire cast manages to step-up to the plate, giving richly textured colours to their characters. The film tackles some heavy themes, many of which are hidden for a lot of the film’s running time – this means each actor must play with different motivations and emotions. Jouarie’s use of long, often uninterrupted takes means than the camera often lingers on the actors making it feel very natural in its composition.
If The Very Last Day has a flaw, it’s that it runs a little too long. Clocking-in at just over two hours (with credits), it drags a tad from time to time. Fifteen minutes perhaps could have been trimmed out from here or there – but this is a small niggle and not enough to detract from the film as a whole.
Engaging and thought-provoking, The Very Last Day once again shows that great movies can come from unlikely places – you just have to keep an eye out for them. Writer-director Cédric Jouarie has managed to craft a film which is well acted and visually strong, offering-up a timely tale which should resonate with a global audience. It’s a conversation piece and a strong piece of entertainment – and that’s what you want from good cinema.