Quirky teenager Rhea Carver (Zosia Mamet) makes her own clothes from recycled material, collects junk she turns into art or furniture and lives in the woods with her family of reclusive artists. All of which makes her an easy target for every jock or bitchy girl at high school. Then one day a boy named Oliver (Sam Underwood) reads a poem aloud in class declaring his love for Rhea. At first Rhea is mortified and suspicious but gradually comes to realize sweet-natured Oliver is the guy for her. Their courtship is complicated by strange visions Rhea has of a white-haired little girl (Lola Cook) that lead her to discover she has magical powers that can make plants grow and control water. Eventually, Rhea's mother (Virginia Madsen) and grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) reveal she descended from an ancient line of benevolent witch-like women and has an important destiny in wait. Yet this might not be a destiny Rhea actually wants.
An offbeat addition to the teen fantasy romance trend, The Last Keepers holds the distinction of not being based on a teen lit bestseller but instead an original story co-devised by producer Claude Dal Farra, who handled Bachelorette (2012) and Liberal Arts (2012), and director Maggie Greenwald. Greenwald is an intriguing, idiosyncratic talent whose eclectic filmography includes the feminist western The Ballad of Little Jo (1993), Jim Thompson neo-noir adaptation The Kill-Off (1989) and Get a Clue (2002), an early Disney vehicle for Lindsay Lohan. Much is made of how the Twilight saga is really an allegory for the pathway from adolescence to womanhood yet that franchise still adheres to an established fantasy-adventure template with battles to be won and the fate of the Earth at stake. By contrast The Last Keepers is genuinely more interested in the emotional dilemmas faced by its iconoclastic teen heroine than the fantasy angle. There are no big bad monsters lying in wait for Rhea Carver but a lot of equally frightening life decisions. Tension arises from her desire to rail against her destiny, realizing her own dreams will come to naught if all she can ever be is a mother.
Screenwriters Peter Hutchings and Christina Mengert craft a lyrical, nurturing, in some ways very feminine narrative that is not conflict based at all. Greenwald proves more adept at handling the warm, faceted human relationships than the fantasy mystery side of the plot which is low-key to the point where things are hard to get a handle on. Clichéd talk of "the prophecy has been fulfilled" fails to clarify the Carver family's mystical origin or the exact nature of the supposedly impending worldwide eco-catastrophe. Although evidently sincere, aspects of the environmental issues dealt with in the film grow a trifle heavy-handed with the burden of global eco disaster thrust onto Rhea's shoulders. Yet frankly it is rather nice to find a fantasy film with no interest in loud, effects-heavy battles and devoted instead to detailing its heroine's growing confidence as a woman. As is the case with a lot of teen fantasy films the heroine's personal arc implies those qualities that make high school so awkward are the very same that allow us to excel as adults.
The characters are uniformly likeable with stalwart work from reliable players like Aidan Quinn as Rhea's father and Virginia Madsen. Sam Underwood is instantly engaging as love interest Oliver whose own inherent individuality really does make him a perfect match for Rhea while Zosia Mamet, part of the ensemble cast of television sensation Girls and daughter of celebrated playwright and filmmaker David Mamet, is an exceptional lead. Rhea is a rare teen fantasy heroine who is recognizably 'real', complex and equal parts confident and insecure yet attractive though not in any contrived fashion model way. It is to the film's credit that she gains self-confidence through her own actions rather than being force-fed any trite life lessons from some sagely elder. Shot in rich, beguiling autumnal colours by cinematographer Wolfgang Held, this is a great looking movie with a winningly benign nature surmized in the closing line: "I want to help."