Famous for such films as Red White & Blue and The Living and the Dead as well as P Is for Pressure one of the most upsetting segments of The ABCs of Death, Simon Rumley is a man who has always avoided the mainstream, until now that is.
Made with a much bigger budget than his usual movies and set up to have mass appeal the subject matter of Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word at first appears like perfect Rumley fodder being as it details the trail and execution of 18-year-old Johnny Frank Garrett (Devin Bonnee) for the murder and molestation of a Catholic nun.
The case seems simple enough although Garrett continually protests his innocence however the terrible crimes coupled with pressure from the community and some tricky courtroom maneuvering from showboating District Attorney Danny Hill (Sean Patrick Flanery) lead to a conviction and the boy is taken to death row to await his final judgment.
On the day of his death still claiming he didn’t do it Garrett is taken to be killed by lethal injection. Ranting and raving his last words are a curse to those who wrongly committed him to die and a letter found in his cell after the event states the same promising revenge on everyone involved.
Weeks later guilt ridden juror Adam Redman (Mike Doyle) is trying to get on with his life and move past the feeling he may have made the wrong decision but when a reporter turns up on his door with Johnny Frank Garrett’s letter and news that one of the fellow jurors has passed away in strange circumstances Adam starts to question everything again.
As the unexplained deaths of more and more people caught up in the trial mount up Adam searches for answers to what really happened the night of the nun’s murder and how it has triggered the seemingly supernatural slayings happening now but the closer he gets to the truth the more danger he puts himself and his family in.
With a far more Hollywood storyline than all his other movies you may be surprised to discover that Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word is in fact based on Jesse Quackenbush documentary The Last Word, about the trial, conviction, and execution of the Johnny Frank Garrett during the early 80’s and it was perhaps real life element that drew Rumley to the film.
Although exaggerated for audience’s entertainment many of the elements of the movie are true making it all the more interesting to watch and the story speeds along well if predictably evoking The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Possession along the way among other horrors.
What truly works is the meshing of a conventional setup with Rumley’s arthouse style and the direction is excellent throughout with solid scares, nasty bits and good jumps all viewed through the directors more stylized perspective making it far more effective and entrancing than a standard Hollywood horror.
The cast are great especially Devin Bonnee who creates a fear filled and fearsome figure in Johnny Frank Garrett flipping between guileless and forlorn victim of circumstance and rage driven spirit of vengeance all the while remaining believable and bewitching in both roles.
Although there will be those who rally against Rumley’s move to the mainstream and see Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word as schlocky sensational popcorn horror as someone who was never a true fan of his the studio shackles seem to me to have brought forth far more creativity and innovation than his earlier more indulgent and meandering movies.
So my last word on Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word is go and see it.