Paula Yeoman is stunned by a brutal new movie.

A small crowd is gathered in a central Auckland movie theatre to watch one of the first official screenings of Rene Naufahu's directorial debut in a feature film, The Last Saint.

There have been murmurings about this film for some time - suggestions it's the new Once Were Warriors; articles recounting the late Sir Paul Holmes' emotive response on reading the script; and lots of talk about funding issues.

The anticipation is only heightened when producer Matthew Horrocks begins to detail the film's trials and tribulations, warning that it's a polarising watch. But most poignantly, that it's a "rebel film". Not only because of its contents but because of the way in which it was made - with little industry support and little money, but definitely no shortage of goodwill, hard work and fighting spirit.

I'm intrigued. But surely The Last Saint cannot be as shocking as we're led to believe, can it? This is 2014, not 20 years ago when jaws dropped to the floors of cinemas as we winced at the horror of Once Were Warriors.


I'm here to focus on the movie's soundtrack and score by Thomas Rose, OJ Raj and Pete Waddams, AKA P-Money. But it's apparent that this film cannot easily be extrapolated. I can't write only about the music.

The gritty and painfully sad story of Polynesian teen Minka Jameson and his P-addicted mother struggling against a backdrop of Auckland's criminal underbelly would not work without the utterly convincing performances of Beulah Koale (who plays Minka) and Joe Naufahu as the P-freak, Pinball.

Nor would it work without the familiar and comforting old-school Kiwi soundtrack or the intense, yet understated, score that keeps the pace but never steals the film's thunder.

Naufahu, who many will know as Sam Aleni on Shortland Street, approached Waddams several years ago. He wanted someone who could bring "street edge" to a project he'd only mapped out in his head. "Rene had this great idea and he really believed in it. He hadn't even shot one second of film when we met. But he sold me on it straight away," says Waddams.

"I liked his determination and independent mind-set of getting it done. It appealed to me because it's the same thing I'd done in music when I started. I had the opportunity to sign with major record companies, but instead I teamed with a mate and we made our own record label, which kick-started my career."

Waddams was forced to pull out of the project when he moved to New York for two years to focus on his music. But on his return, Naufahu sought him out, asking him once again to add his touch to the score.

"Most of the time the music is tied to Minka's actions," he explains.

"There's a great scene where he stops his father from beating this guy to death in a carpark and he runs from the wharves through the city. The goal was to let the audience feel what's happening inside his head - panic and confusion and trying to escape from that world. When he stops running, he catches his breath... his dad pulls up... there's no escaping."


And that's kind of how you feel when the end credits on The Last Saint start rolling. Even if the grim storyline depicting a young man caught in a spiralling state of despair is as far from your own reality as it gets, you cannot escape the feeling of emptiness it leaves you with. And, I was wrong - it is still possible in 2014 to be stunned by violence, brutality and deep sadness.

Like me, Waddams took some time to digest the film after watching the final edit for the first time. "It just hit me, it's so intense and emotional and upsetting and challenging and all of these things. I thought, 'Wow, this is just a heavy movie'."

The Kiwi DJ and producer is proud of his involvement but says Naufahu and Horrocks are to be applauded for making such a challenging film in such challenging circumstances.

"Rene's had some sleepless nights trying to pull it together and to get it to this point. He has not stopped. He and Matt have had their eyes on the prize. They wanted to get this story told and get this film out to the public. And they've done it.

"Getting it into Event Cinemas without having a major distributor is an amazing achievement. It's remarkable," he adds.

And like me, Waddams is telling everyone he knows to watch The Last Saint. Not because it's the first feature film he's helped score but because it's something New Zealanders should see.

"I think you get a little slice of life, maybe a little reality check for folks who might think we don't have some of these negative things in society.

"The drug scene does exist, the violence does exists, and there are kids sometimes caught up in this world, who need support, who need someone to listen and need a bit of assistance. And I think Minka is that character.

"I've already heard some people saying, 'This is not New Zealand'. But yeah, it is, and on
that note alone, that's why it's such an important film."

The Last Saint is showing at Event Cinemas from Thursday.