Gems pop up unexpectedly at festivals. Sometimes more than anticipated. This year’s Fantastic Fest has several. My favorite so far is The Last Stop in Yuma County, starring Jim Cummings, for its quirky western (not a western) feel and well-crafted scenarios and characters. Writer/director Francis Galluppi creates a clever, crisp, and crafty situation that builds, at times, intensely into an explosive ending.
Cummings plays a traveling knife salesman who pulls over at the last stop in Yuma County, where he discovers that the station has no fuel on hand. He takes refuge in the Last Stop diner to wait for a truck that we learn has crashed just outside town. Soon, the diner is busy with others waiting on fuel, including two bank robbers on the run, an elderly couple, a pair of would-be delinquents, and a lone waitress. Others (a deputy, a local man and the gas station attendant) feed into the diner, adding to the tension and keeping in line with the Western feel, heat and tensions rise, leading to startling results.
Shooting in just nine days, Galluppi and cinematographer Mac Fisken keep things perfectly simple, creating an enticing and intense atmosphere with no special effects or CGI. Set in what appears to be the 70s, the movie feels so much like a Western; without actually being one, cars could have been exchanged for horses and the diner for a saloon. There’s a subtly to the story – offering a sense of what will happen next, but then the unexpected and outlandish occurs. Galluppi makes remarkable use of his single confined set, keeping the story tight and engaging. The camera lives each key moment, creating incredible intensity in the details – making the diner a figurative powder keg .
With Galluppi’s keen eye and Fisken’s too, the Last Stop in Yuma County gives audiences one of the coolest films of 2023 and, for sure, of this year’s Fantastic Fest. It’s tight and ingenious and, best yet, gripping and satisfying, demonstrative of true talent in direction. Galluppi’s scored well with his cast, too, making the film truly deserving of 5 stars.