Last Days of Lab
Oct 4, 2023
Maria Alvarez, Ethan Newmyer
Alex Felix, Arianna Ortiz, Juan Francisco Villa
In a world where physical media is slowly dying out it is a strange paradox that people have begun to appreciate it even more. Things such as VHS, film tapes, polaroid cameras and vinyls have garnered a newfound appreciation, particularly amongst a younger generation who pine for and retreat into nostalgia in the face of the harsh reality of the modern world. It’s in this current landscape that a film like ‘Last Days of the Lab’ feels so poignant, with its heartfelt story of a lost world mirroring the current dysphoric state of the planet.
There’s something about shops like a camera lab that holds a special power. Record shops, DVD stores (i.e. blockbuster), and book shops, also have this special power. They have a calming quality, making you feel both comforted by the presence of this object from yesteryear and at ease in the presence of people with a similar interest - be that music, film, or books. The owners, and even the workers, at these shops seem to generally care for both the product that they are selling and the customers they are serving, taking a genuine interest in their lives and how it involves whatever they may be purchasing.
That is no different in ‘Last Days of Lab’, which follows a family business, now run by a mother, Lucia (Arianna Ortiz) and her teenage daughter Isabel (Alex Felix), following the assumed passing of husband and father Hugo (Juan Francisco Villa). They greet their customers with a smile on their face, and discuss the significance of the cameras or tapes that they have brought in, or are purchasing, with them. It’s a nice little family business, yet, unfortunately, it’s one that is closing, probably due to the rise of digital media and its effect on physical media businesses. As the title suggests, the film focuses on the lab’s final day, and Lucia and Isabel’s preparations to permanently close down the business.
This creates an extremely sombre attitude that clouds over the film, with the pair essentially in mourning for not just the loss of the business, but the loss of the memories that come with it, including that of the absent Hugo. Sifting through old photographs and tapes it becomes apparent that they are saying goodbye to a part of themselves, and a final goodbye to Hugo. The screenplay by María Alvarez, who also directs, and Ethan Newmyer, perfectly illustrates the shared pain that both are going through as they reminisce of better, more innocent, days.
This sentiment is echoed by Alvarez’s directing, which, using excellent red lighting, creates a mystical sense surrounding the camera lab, as though the actors, who both give engaging performances, are really walking around knowing that tomorrow their lives will have changed irreversibly. Each shot feels as though it has been imbued with Alvarez’s own loss, or her own wishes to go back to a bygone era, and there is a haunting sense of emptiness throughout the film.
This translates to an incredibly moving film, with ‘Last Days of Lab’ a stark reminder that nothing lasts forever, and that one day we’ll all be relics in a world where we were once young.