By Christopher Haydon | Drama
A teenager wakes up and discovers she's the last person on Earth.

Martha wakes up one morning and gets ready, listening to music, brushing her teeth and cramming in breakfast like any other day. But this is no ordinary day. When she leaves the house she shares with her mother, she realizes that everyone has disappeared, and she is the last person on Earth.

Martha doesn’t quite know what to do, spending her time wandering and listening to the last message her mother left on their answering machine. But then she finally encounters the one other person left on earth — and discovers they are connected in a way that will alter their existences forever.

This intriguing, resonant short drama — directed by Christopher Haydon, written by Iona Firouzabad and produced by Alexandra Blue — is equal parts dystopian mystery and coming-of-age story. With exquisite cinematography and camera movement, it has the sweep and propulsion of an existential sci-fi thriller, while the discernment of its performances and writing unfurl a rich set of themes that pay off with a profoundly moving, soulful ending.

Its dramatic situation sets up a quiet film at first, with just one main character throughout most of the story, who must find her bearings. There is little dialogue but for the recording of Martha’s mother, which Martha listens to again and again as the film progresses.

But despite the sparseness, the storytelling feels rich and full, starting with the compelling visuals, which inject both tension and a textured moodiness into the pacing. Thoughtful sound design and a particularly evocative use of music also adds to the drama, giving shape and form to Martha’s emotional landscape and the peculiar emptiness of the world.

The film is anchored by a charismatic, compelling performance by actor Shannon Tarbet, who captures both the carefree, confident enjoyment of young adulthood and the increasingly unmoored anxiety of solitude. As she grows more scared, she seems to revert and clings to any reminder of her mother. But when she meets the one other person left on the planet, she discovers something more is going on, and must confront the fact that she must truly leave her family and home behind, both in reality and within.

“Martha” ends with a twist, one that spins the film into existentially profound territory. But while many twists go for shock, this particularly re-skewing of the film’s events is executed with more steady sleight-of-hand than surprise. This twist adds a final chord of resonance that unfolds into an ending suffused with tenderness and emotion, as Martha faces the truth of what has happened and lets go of what she once knew to face the unknown. To say more would be to give it away, but it ultimately makes “Martha” into a story that lingers with viewers well after it’s over, with feelings of aching, muted sorrow and grief.

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