It’s difficult to talk about a horror film when the horrifying imagery never actually occurs on screen, and yet Sara Summa’s directorial and written debut succeeds in being deeply melancholic and quietly upsetting by enveloping us in the mundane final 24-hours of a doomed Italian farming family in The Last to See Them.
In a sharp deviation from standard home invasion formulas, The Last to See Them openly tells us that the family is already dead. No bodies; no blood; just text on the backdrop of otherwise peaceful farmland. The next 79 minutes take us through the last day of their lives, their routines and conversations from morning to dark, leading up to the arrival of their killer the previous night—showed in slow, methodical detail, intercut with the first-person approach of a vehicle on a lonely Italian highway, creeping closer and closer to its final destination.
While this is without a doubt a horror movie, one wouldn’t call it scary per se. There are no jump scares: No slasher violence: No sequence actively showing their demise. However, between the shots of the car and the knowledge of their ultimate fate, there is a heavy atmosphere of dread and melancholy that permeates almost every interaction or throw away (to the characters’ minds) plans that could have spared any one of them at various times: a deferred car ride, a missed family visit, someone leaving just a few minutes too soon. At times, it approaches the perilous bleakness of The Revenant.
However, like The Revenant, the slow, plodding pace, and the immense dread does welcomes some fatigue. The same thing that provides the point of this exercise: the mundanity of the lives of most hapless victims of violence—can in itself become mundane and stretched too thin. At the same time, it is important to note this is a first-time effort on dual fronts: writing and directing for Sara Summa. With how much emotion and impact she manages to shove into one of the shortest run times in modern horror, a genre which now flirts comfortably within the 2 and a half or 3 hour mark, you can see fairly clearly the potential in her work both now and in the future. Sara Summa will likely be someone to watch out for as she flexes her creative muscles with more finesse and experience going forward.