...to celebrate the slasher genre
THE LAST MATINEE (2021)
I can appreciate the intimate yet claustrophobic setting Maximiliano Contenti chooses for his latest slasher: a movie theater. Having been a fan of slashers films for as long as I’ve had screens to look at, I was excited to see this old-school throwback romp filled with blood and popcorn. This being a contemprary foreign film from Uruguay specifically, would the sensibilities around violence and murder be as evocative as what came before?
I must say that Contenti has his work cut out for him here. His inspiration from giallo cinema - both horror and westerns - is evident here. The entire film is set mostly within and sometimes outside of a movie theater, with emphasis on the auditorium. We jump back and forth between grand sweeping shots of the theater at large with tight intimate frames of our small cast we come to meet. He keeps the camera at the level that a seated audience member would be positioned at - low and upward. These small decisions dissolve any separation of objective viewing, you feel you are in the seat in many of the sequences.
It is a rainy night in Uruguay. A movie theater running on old film projectors is showing yet another iteration of Frankenstein, albeit a incredibly violent rendition. A killer, draped in a long cloak and hood, enters the theater with no other motive than to kill all those inside the screening. It’s a light showing with only a handful of patrons in attendance. A couple of drunk teenagers, a couple on an awkward date, a beautiful girl sitting alone, an old man and a small boy, a stowaway from the previous movie who hides in the front rows.
As the audience trickles in, the main character Ana (Luciana Grasso) sends her unhealthy father, the seasoned projectionist, home and runs the reels herself. She is our heroine and capably runs the projector as she studies for her exams. The killer meticulously stalks the audience members once the film begins, utilizing the soundtrack in the theater to mask his slicing and stabbing of his victims. Before too long, the body count rises and Ana finds herself fending off the maniac she's caged in with while trying to escape the locked theater. If you feel like this is all too familiar, don’t be alarmed. That is your instinct telling you that you’ve seen this before under a different model. The plot is basic, and far from surprising.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
I am going to try to not be too presumptuous in what is considered organic or tongue-in-cheek in the context of the Spanish language. I know enough Spanish to follow the story (thankfully there are subtitles), but if there were nuanced meanings behind structure and word choice, they flew past me. I will say the acting actually surpassed my expectations. The script doesn’t ask for much from the cast - “watch a movie” or “run for life being scared” are the biggest options on the table for them. The characters themselves painted a broad palette of different age groups and classes. Quite diverse for a small cast.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
This film is bloody. This film is gory. Nearly every victim of the killer meets their fate in spectacular slasher fashion. But what looks even better are the incredible scenes lit by cinematographer Benjamin Silva. A splash of light here, a glaze of blood there. The task to create mood and horror inside an already darkened space like a movie theater is met with vigor and passion. If one can get past the carnage, there’s lots of beauty to be seen here.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The score is fitting and simple. Hernán González composes flowy measures that build the tension and releases it just as quickly. The sound department followed the cues of splatter and gore textbooks of older films to the letter. Every crunch, stab, slice, blood spray lands with visceral authenticity. I actually have to wince in a few scenes because of them.
The overall impression I got from The Last Matinee’s mission statement was to celebrate the slasher genre, specifically the giallo films of the 70s and 80s. It carries a simple premise with precise execution. I wanted the film to excite me more though. Because with as much care that was given to make it, the film doesn’t really stand out on its own. It's too good of an homage to the inspirations it emulates that it gets lost in its own revelry. Slasher fans will adore it, casual horror fans will appreciate it. If you’re in neither camp, I’d say go backwards and watch the catalog that influenced The Last Matinee. You’ll get more bang for your buck.