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Last Swim Film Review: Charming Debut

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Last Swim Film Review: Charming Debut

Sasha Nathwani’s Last Swim is a bittersweet vignette of a teenage awakening, full of turbulence, laughter, and poignant realizations about what we all live for.


Sasha Nathwani’s debut feature film Last Swim won the hearts of the jury at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival. What earned it the Silver Bear for Best Film in the Generation 14plus category is its touching celebration of youth and the overcoming of fear in the face of painful hardships.

Last Swim captures a fateful day in the life of Iranian teenager Ziba (Deba Hekmat), which is momentous and crucial for her future on multiple fronts. On one hand, she and her friends are receiving their final exam results, which are decisive for their acceptance into college programs; on the other hand, she has secretly decided to make her own life-changing decision to escape a greater suffering she doesn’t talk about. What ensues is an eventful, meticulously planned trip across the hidden gem spots of London and the unraveling of Ziba’s internal torments.

Throughout its runtime, Last Swim elegantly dances between masked melancholy and wholesome humor while knowing exactly how to channel the messy vivacity of being young, overwhelmed with fear of life and joy of life. 

Ziba is a likable, flawed character with a secret. She appears and exits the screen with a clear objective, clear motivation, and clear obstacles standing in her way. Her decision-making as well as her transformative arc visibly tick all the boxes of a formulaic character-building checklist. We hit all the common beats on the route of her development, but the persuasiveness of the story hides in its technical and artistic execution.

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The urban setting breathes life into this coming-of-age journey. There’s an indescribable spirit to the film due to the way it portrays the vibrancy of a London summer, reminiscent of the recent energetic (although very differently stylized) rom-com Rye Lane (2023). The city feels as young as the characters roaming its streets.

The effortlessly gorgeous cinematography (Olan Collardy) works in tandem with the actors’ naturalistic performances, giving the film a casualness that makes it more delightful to watch and more inviting to invest in the friend group’s buzzing chemistry. The interactions between the four come across as genuine and relaxed, as if they aren’t trying too hard, in the best way possible.

Lydia Fleming, Deba Hekmat, Denzel Baidoo and Jay Lycurgo cycle in the film Last Swim
Lydia Fleming, Deba Hekmat, Denzel Baidoo and Jay Lycurgo in Last Swim (© Caviar, Pablo & Zeus / Berlinale)

Tara (Lydia Fleming), Merf (Jay Lycurgo), and Shea (Solly McLeod) luckily do not tumble into the traps of the coming-of-age genre and its frustratingly stereotypical portrait of the sidekicks, bound to the protagonist by the script and the script alone. Ziba’s friends are not defined by particular teenage archetypes. Their distinct qualities are not written in to serve purposes. They are written in to flesh out their humanity, crafting them into three-dimensional, layered, confused young adults the audience could believe.

The original score (Federico Albanese) is an everpresent element of Last Swim: urban, energetic, and most importantly, a culturally balanced infusion of Ziba’s British and Iranian heritage, blending in more commercial beats with the traditional, serving as subtle, complementing colors on a backdrop for Ziba’s individuality. 

Sasha Nathwani’s background as a music video director quite visibly comes through in his multiple slow-motion “happy moment” montages of Ziba smiling and laughing with her friends, which grow a tad redundant once we pass the third one. Their emotional impact diminishes with every next attempt at conveying the young innocence of those moments with the same exact technique. 

Towards the transition into the second act, the friends are joined by an unfamiliar acquaintance named Malcolm (Denzel Baidoo), whose involvement in the group becomes an important catalyst for Ziba’s self-discovery but never cements its necessity more than just on a narrative level. What I’m referring to is not the character dynamics he creates or is written in, but the natural integration of his storyline to the point where it matches the rest. The barrier between Malcolm and the four never really recedes completely. The chemistry there remains forced until the end, especially in contrast to the effortless chemistry of Ziba, Tara, Merf, and Shea, and especially after the film’s abrupt emotional shift in the third act. 

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With all its good and bad, Last Swim is an impressive debut feature film from Sasha Nathwani, who already displays refined control over his artistry through the lens of a sentimental letter about growing up in London and coming to terms with one’s own mortality and appreciation of life.


Last Swim premiered at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival, where it won the 2024 Youth Jury Generation 14plus Crystal Bear for Best Film.

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Movie Reviews

‘Abigail’ is a Delightfully Gory Addition to Vampire Movies – Review

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‘Abigail’ is a Delightfully Gory Addition to Vampire Movies – Review

Becky checked out Abigail to see how it stacks up to other vampire movies.

I need to start off with a bit of blunt honesty: I initially thought it was a mistake for the trailers to give away that Abigail is a vampire. It would’ve been an immensely satisfying twist had the audience gone in completely blind to the truth of what Abigail really is.

That being said, having seen the film, I can now admit that it wasn’t a mistake at all. In fact everything given away in the trailer only serves to whet the appetite, so to speak, for what’s to come in the rest of the film.

Abigail, an extremely loose re-interpretation of Dracula’s Daughter (1936), follows a group of kidnappers as they snatch a wealthy mogul’s daughter, the titular Abigail, to hold her for ransom. It seems like a simple job: hold the girl until her father coughs up the ransom, everyone gets paid, everyone is happy. There’s just one little detail the kidnappers don’t know: Abigail is actually a vampire, and she’s very hungry.

The story does take a bit of time to properly get going, with a major chunk of time passing before anything remotely supernatural happens. However, once the creepy vampire activities start happening, the story kicks into a whole new gear. The basic set up is frightening, as these criminals find themselves locked in a house with a vampire and no exits. The thing is, the story also comes across as funny at times, in a weird and twisted sort of way.

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For instance, there’s a scene revealed in one of the trailers where the group debates how they’re going to take the vampire down and they list off the different kinds of vampires known in fiction (citing Anne Rice, True Blood, and Twilight among other things). It makes sense that this is how most people would have any information about vampires, yet the way it’s presented you can’t help but laugh a little when it comes up.

The cast is one detail that makes Abigail a very good film. Alisha Weir almost completely steals the show with her performance as Abigail and proves she has a bright future in movies. Kathryn Newton also rocks as Sammy the hacker. This is the second horror film I’ve seen her in this year and she is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses. However, all praise needs to be given to Melissa Barrera’s performance as Joey. She absolutely killed it throughout the film and it’s mesmerizing to watch her interactions with Abigail shift throughout the story.

One thing that needs to be noted is that Abigail is a very gory film. It’s not constant, but when it does happen, it’s a lot. The filmmakers definitely played these moments up for maximum effect and it works.

Something that worked unexpectedly well is the theme of ballet that is woven throughout the film. That is one detail I wasn’t sure would work, but if anything it serves to make Abigail even more terrifying. To be followed throughout the mansion by a vampiric ballerina is quite unsettling and definitely makes Abigail one of the more memorable additions to the lore of vampiric cinema.

In conclusion, Abigail is equal parts scary, gory, and believe it or not, fun. It likely won’t win any awards, but I truly feel that most people who go in to see it will leave feeling satisfied. Abigail is the very definition of a good ‘popcorn movie’ and one I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

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Short Film Review: Wooden Toilet (2023) by Zuni Rinpoche

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Short Film Review: Wooden Toilet (2023) by Zuni Rinpoche

“You separated from us”

Winner of Best LGBTQ Short Film’ at the International Kolkata Short Film Festival this year, “Wooden Toilet” had an extensive festival run before premiering in its country of production, Bhutan.

The 11-minutes short begins with a rather impressive sequence, of a procession of people dressed in white through the mountains, with an exception of one woman who is eventually revealed to be the one whose husband’s funeral the group of people were attending. The sudden laughter of a man breaks the ritualistic approach, and we find out that there is something unusual about this man, who is later on trying to explain it to the aforementioned woman. The back story of another man, where he is trying to reveal something to his father but is instead met with anger and scorn, highlights, to a point at least, what the issue with the two men is. One of the final scenes makes it rather clear, while the last scene connects the short with its title.

The first thing one would notice about “Wooden Toilet” is its impressive visuals. Starting with the initial procession, the close ups that emit a sense of horror, the hanging ropes and the red bedroom are all truly memorable, with Zuni Rinpoche implementing symbolism in order to make his comments. The symbolisms, however, are somewhat difficult to understand what they are about, although the comment about the racism and lack of understanding queer people have to face is made quite clear.

The non-linear approach, which also includes much surrealism, apart from the aforementioned symbolism, adds much to the narrative, particularly through the implementation of the aforementioned scenes. One could say, that on a number of levels, the film could be described as experimental, although there is also a basis in terms of story, that does not allow it to go fully towards that direction.

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All in all, “Wooden Toilet” is an intriguing short by Zuni Rinpoche, who would definitely benefit from a longer duration, that would allow the director to unfold his story and his symbolisms in more eloquent fashion. Still, the film deserves a watch for its visuals and the overall approach to the queer concept.

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“Unsung Hero” Movie Review: A True Story of Faith, Music, and a Family's New Beginning –

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“Unsung Hero” Movie Review: A True Story of Faith, Music, and a Family's New Beginning –

Staff Report

“Unsung Hero” is an inspiring tale of resilience and hope that charts the journey of the Smallbone family from the shores of Australia to the heart of America. After the collapse of his music company, David Smallbone, portrayed by Joel Smallbone of for KING + COUNTRY, along with his pregnant wife Helen, played by Daisy Betts, and their seven children, embark on a daring move to the United States. Armed with nothing but their luggage, a shared love for music, and unyielding faith, the family seeks to rebuild their shattered lives.

Set for release in the United States on April 26, 2024, “Unsung Hero” is directed by Joel Smallbone and Richard Ramsey, with Lionsgate handling distribution. The film’s poignant and uplifting score is crafted by Brent McCorkle, ensuring that music plays a pivotal role in narrating the Smallbones’ story. Produced by Justin Tolley, Josh Walsh, and Luke Smallbone, and brought to the screen by Kingdom Story Company and Candy Rock Entertainment, this film promises a heartwarming cinematic experience.

“Unsung Hero” delves deep into the challenges and triumphs of the Smallbone family as they navigate their new environment. Helen’s unwavering faith becomes a beacon of hope for her family, inspiring her husband and children to cling to their own beliefs even when their dreams seem out of reach. It’s this foundation of faith that ignites the musical talent within their children, ultimately leading them to become two of the most acclaimed acts in the world of Inspirational Music. The story not only celebrates their eventual success—highlighted by GRAMMY awards for both for KING + COUNTRY and Rebecca St. James—but also pays homage to the silent sacrifices made by David and Helen.

“Unsung Hero” is more than just a biographical film; it’s a testament to the power of faith and family, and the incredible impact of nurturing talents. As the Smallbones find their footing in a new country, they also discover that their greatest strength lies within each other and their shared passions. This film is a must-watch for anyone who believes in the power of starting anew and the magic that music and faith can bring to life’s darkest moments. For more information, visit Rotten Tomatoes’ page dedicated to “Unsung Hero”

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Reference link:

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/.

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