The iconic Alfred Hitchcock once noted the difference between surprise and suspense through the metaphor of a bomb. When the audience knows about a bomb, you can build entire sequences around its dangerous consequences. While an instant explosion can still shock the audience, it does not have the staying power of drawn-out tension. Director Francis Galluppi utilizes a seemingly non-stop build of tension to deliver something special. His thriller, The Last Stop in Yuma County, not only works with its sleek and stylized screenplay. It happens to feature a murders row of character actors to deliver on its crazier moments.
While driving through a desert, a knife salesman (Jim Cummings) stops for gas. When it turns out the stop is not only out of fuel but its the last for one hundred miles, he decides to wait out the afternoon in a diner. At first, it’s quiet, the waitress Charlotte (Jocelin Donahue) pushing him to pick up some pie. However, as the restaurant begins to add patrons, bank robbers Beau (Richard Brake) and Travis (Nicholas Logan) grow paranoid.
Galluppi does not wait long to put the audience in a vice grip. As he does, the actors lock into their roles and begin a cat-and-mouse game. Long takes allows The Last Stop in Yuma County the cast to slowly build emotions within each scene. It also adds an air of intensity to each conversation. The camerawork from DP Mac Fisken helps keep our attention in the right places. He changes the environment depending on the angle, quickly ratcheting up the claustrophobia when needed. Then, suddenly, the next scene shoots on wide lenses to expand the space. It’s a clever technique that allows both Galluppi and Fisken to experiment within a tight space visually.
The actors come to play from the word go. Both Cummings and Brake blow the doors off the film in their own unique methods. Brake channels genuine rage through his role, and the audience should clearly fear his plans at all times. Meanwhile, Cummings adds a manic energy that lets us get lost in his motivations. Does he want to get home to his family? Does he want to survive? His morally gray character could serve as the audience stand-in, but instead, Cummings and Galluppi find more nuance in his decision-making. As Cummings embraces each new threat, The Last Stop in Yuma County adds more moral quandaries to his path.
Both Faizon Love and Jon Proudstar get good moments, but we certainly would have liked to have spent more time with both. They add a different perspective on the situation and bring more personal stakes to the events that follow. Additionally, Michael Abbott Jr. gets pushed into a bumbling idiot role that hurts the film’s ending. Abbott’s performance lifts the writing, but painting his character as less of a caricature would have helped.
The ensemble slowly adds a diverse group of performers, and Galluppi builds nuance into the tropes. While each character pulls from works seen in Tarrantino, Bava, and Peckinpah films, Galluppi helps each stand out. The various motivations of each character shine through, especially when the going gets rough. The lone exception comes from the police, who embody the bumbling cop trope. Some more development on this group of characters would have helped them feel as important in the story as those in the diner. Despite those characters being thinly drawn, Galluppi finds a way to make us care for most of the others who wander into the story.
While a shoot ’em-up ensemble film allows for plenty of fun moments. Due to the constraints of the genre, we lose some of the most interesting characters earlier than we would like. Despite this, Galluppi finds ways to keep the action moving forward. It makes The Last Stop in Yuma County a fun genre exercise that should reward repeat viewings.