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'Last Ferry' review: Fire Island drama could have used more atmosphere, less formula

Myles Clohessy stars in

Myles Clohessy stars in "Last Ferry," a drama filmed in and set on Fire Island, that streams on Netflix. Credit: Emblematic Pictures

WHAT IT’S ABOUT A gay Manhattan attorney named Joseph (Ramon O. Torres) arrives on Fire Island during the offseason in search of a fun escape from his lonely city life. Things do not go as hoped: he’s drugged, robbed and witnesses a murder. Then, he’s taken in by the kindhearted Cameron (Sheldon Best) and his friends, including the killer Rafael (Myles Clohessy).

MY SAY Fire Island during the offseason makes for a rich setting for a thriller; there’s something powerfully lonely and even surreal about the empty beaches and boardwalks as seen under gray skies.

“Last Ferry,” written by Torres and directed by Jaki Bradley, takes the gift of that location and saps it of that atmosphere. It’s formulaic and pedestrian when it should be treading mysterious psychological depths.

You could do worse than this if you’re looking on Netflix for a diversion from the ongoing terrible news cycle. There’s nothing egregiously wrong with the picture beyond the fact that it’s rather uninspired.

But there’s a clear sense throughout of potential being squandered and not just because the excellent 2013 French thriller “Stranger by the Lake,” one of the movies that inspired this one, manages to take a similar premise and turn it into a powerfully effective rumination on our lustful impulses.

The problems with “Last Ferry” start with Joseph himself, an entirely uninteresting character who also happens to be underplayed to the point where he is a veritable nonpresence. He barely manages a reaction to some of the awful stuff he experiences and Torres’ screenplay provides little in the way of an engaging back story. We don’t really understand the deeper and more ingrained reasons he has come to Fire Island, or what it represents to him in contrast to his city life.

There’s not much in the way of sustained narrative momentum either, as once Joseph starts hanging out with Cameron and his friends the screenplay tends to veer into clichéd territory. There are mimosa toasts and beach hangouts and the usual staples of a conventional depiction of gay friends on Fire Island, none of which amount to more than a tepid distraction from what’s supposed to be the story of a man swept up in the consequences of a terrible crime.

We are meant to feel a deep romantic connection between Joseph and Cameron, but even that feels run-of-the-mill. It manifests in sleepy, conventional techniques, such as conversations that don’t really go anywhere interesting and a sex scene shot with the usual erotic thriller staples of close-ups of legs and feet intertwined.

It’s all too ordinary for a movie set in such an interesting place — one that is hauntingly empty and rife with dramatic possibilities — during such an interesting time of the year.

BOTTOM LINE “Last Ferry” was a hit on the LGBTQ film festival circuit last year and it offers sufficient escapism from the drumbeat of coronavirus news to where you won’t feel cheated if you spend an hour-and-a-half or so watching it. But it could have been so much more.

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