A filmmaker gets more than he bargained for in Last Rites, a short film directed by Ahmad Alishan from a script by Ben Archer and Oscar Robinson. Alex Tuohy plays Simon Oiseau, an aspirant documentary filmmaker (Theroux-esque in appearance and manner) who arranges to follow around two women (Olivia Freeman and Zoë Louise Parker) working as cleaners, for a documentary capturing working-class British life. It turns out, however, that the women are ‘cleaners’ in the La Femme Nikita sense, cleaning up the crime scenes left by the hit men of a crime syndicate run by ‘Grandmother’ (Nuala Walsh). Surprisingly, Grandmother decides to let Oiseau continue making his documentary – which the filmmaker might soon regret, as he becomes embroiled in an escalating series of violent crimes.
Alishan’s film is, without a doubt, a palpably influenced one, and there are moments where it starts to creak under the weight of its own cine-literacy. Yet for a film belonging to two indie flick sub-genres that wore themselves out around the turn of the millennium – the mock-documentary and the post-Tarantino crime comedy (indeed, much of the film feels like a riff on the ‘Bonny Situation’ segment from Pulp Fiction) – Last Rites is surprisingly fleet-footed and smart. The film taps into the same incongruity of slick, ultra-violent Hollywood genre tropes playing out against a backdrop of quintessentially British mundanity and disappointment that powered Edgar Wright’s early films, and manages to evoke laughs from the dissonance between its life-and-death stakes and the drab furnishings amidst which they play out. Alishan has a keen eye for absurdist images and moments of physical comedy, particularly a sequence involving a horde of pigs, which are all the more jarring and amusing for being filtered through the Office-style wobble and unblinking stare of Oiseau’s camera. More than formal gimmick, this strategy mirrors the attitudes of the characters, for whom corpse disposal really is just another day at the office – not the stuff of ticking-clock suspense or weighty moral contemplation, but of complaining, idle banter, and clenched-teeth conversations with loathed co-workers. Without labouring the point, the film gets at something chilling about the dehumanising grind of the modern job market, with workers so ground down that the matter of washing out bloodstains is greeted with nothing more than exhausted exasperation. There’s something quietly pointed in Last Rites’ exploration of the documentarian’s need to capture everything and the impulse toward ‘authenticity’ – is it a coincidence that the trailer makes reference to Kony 2012, perhaps the most prominent modern example of the fallacy that witnessing or capturing images of violence has inherent moral value?
For all that is familiar about Last Rites, it has a down-to-earth local flavour and a healthy disregard for good taste that is all its own, cementing Alishan, Archer, and Robinson as promising new voices.
Last Rites will be available on Vimeo from the end of 2021