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Indian and the Western: Meet Naveen Chathapuram, the Indian American Director of ‘The Last Victim’

Indian and the Western: Meet Naveen Chathapuram, the Indian American Director of ‘The Last Victim’

  • Released in May, and currently available on Hulu, the neo-Western thriller stars Ron Perlman, Ralph Ineson and Ali Larter.

Indian American filmmaker Naveen A. Chathapuram has always been fascinated by neo-Western thrillers. He watched these films growing up and soon realized that the success of this genre depends on the filmmaker’s smart treatment of a good script and mindful casting while retaining the core.

This May, the Coimbatore-born, Chicago-raised Chathapuram made his directorial debut with “The Last Victim,” starring Ron Perlman, Ralph Ineson and Ali Larter. The film ponders the morality and humanity of life isolated from the rules of society. It revolves around a horrific crime in a lonely New Mexico town which kicks off an unstoppable chain of events that rips through the lives of everyone involved. 

As Sheriff Herman Hickey (Perlman) and Deputy Mindy Gaboon (Camille Legg) try to solve one of the worst crimes their small town has ever seen, charismatic ideologue Jake Samuels (Ineson) and his strange crew of outcasts attempt to dispose of evidence in a remote stretch of inhospitable desert. When the outcasts cross paths with a married couple moving across the country, everyone’s fate is changed in an instant. Now with her sheltered world turned upside down, anthropology professor Susan Orden (Larter) must confront her dark side and ask herself what she’s willing to do in order to stay alive. In the face of desperation and isolation, morality is a question with many answers.

The film received mixed reviews. The Guardian said “the modern dimestore western is ‘Mo’ Country for Old Men.’ Per the review, Ali Larter “is the only bright spot of this western noir that seems familiar right down to the cod Cormac McCarthy voiceover.”, in its review, said the film “plays like a bet between the filmmakers and some sadistic bully who triple-dog-dared them to fit all its disparate plotlines into a cohesive whole.” It says Chathapuram and writer Ashley James Louis “lose the bet by fashioning a confusing hodgepodge of comedy, thriller, and horror elements. Making matters worse, they wrap it all up in a ‘homage’ to the Coen Brothers and saddle it with narration that sounds like an Android app designed to poorly imitate Raymond Chandler.”

According to Variety, “the languid neo-noir is partly redeemed by Ali Larter’s strong performance.” Slant magazine calls it “a Neo-Western shrouded in a [Joel and Ethan] Coen-sized shadow,” adding that the film is “distractingly indebted to ‘No Country for Old Men,’ and that its “wild tonal swings mostly leave it feeling impossibly disjointed.”

Chathapuram told The Hindu that “The Last Victim” was conceptualized more than 15 years ago. He was first introduced to the storyline by anthropologist Dr. Neal ‘Doc’ Justin, and he later shared the screenplay with writer Ashley James Louis and soon, the first draft of a script was ready. But the location for which they had planned burned down from a forest fire. So the team had to shelve the project. Chathapuram, however, did not give up. “It was to be my second film as a producer too, so we all naturally put everything into it. But looking back, I know I had to trust in the process and I knew it would all eventually pay off.”

The setting of the film was one of the biggest characters, he told the Indian publication. He recalled going to Arizona at age 22, and how the “ stunning landscapes” were “a culture shock” for him. “The Last Victim” was shot in Canada. 

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Working with Ali Larter, Ralph Ineson, Penikett and Perlman as well as a spread of young talent such as Dakota Daulby and Tom Stevens was exciting for Chathapuram because they truly believed in the vision of The Last Victim.” Credited for giving Chris Hemsworth his Hollywood break in the 2010 action-thriller “Ca$h,: he told The Hindu that although there’s no collaboration in the near future, he said the last time he met the actor was on the sets of “Avengers,” and the two stay in touch occasionally. 

Chathapuram has been involved in the production of independent films, commercials and music videos. He has produced films like “Ca$h,” “Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn,” “Brown Nation,” and “American Underdog.” He is the founder of Immortal Thoughts production.

“The Last Victim” is currently available on Hulu.

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