The Last Matinee, 2020.
Directed by Maximiliano Contenti.
Starring Luciana Grasso, Franco Duran, Daiana Carigi, Julieta Spinelli, Ricardo Islas.
A mysterious killer stalks the patrons of a cinema who are watching a horror movie.
The ‘giallo homage’ has become a sub-genre all of its own in recent years, with filmmakers taking their inspiration from the likes of Dario Argento and Mario Bava to attempt to create atmospheric, deliberately paced murder mysteries with some creative gore shots thrown in. Well, at least they try to.
Uruguayan movie The Last Matinee doesn’t so much wear its influences on its sleeve but rather has them tattooed on its sleeves, legs and any other extremities that can be inked, shortly before having them amputated in extreme close-up. Oh yes, director Maximiliano Contenti has certainly watched Tenebrae and Demons, and judging by the number of times the camera lingers on the film poster in this movie you can bet Opera was a firm favourite as well because The Last Matinee is Argento worship in its most unadulterated form. Is that a bad thing? Doesn’t have to be, as Contenti is clearly passionate but despite the obvious homages The Last Matinee does lack that certain something to make it breathe on its own.
If you’ve seen the Dario Argento-produced Demons – and, quite frankly, if you haven’t then you should be ashamed of yourself – then this slasher variation plays out in a fairly predictable manner, as patrons in a cinema who are there to watch Frankenstein: Day of the Beast (a real movie from 2011 and directed by actor Ricardo Islas) get picked off one by one by a killer wielding a surprisingly small knife considering the damage he does with it. We get a couple who look like they are on their first date, a group of drunk teenagers, a young boy who has sneaked in to watch the horror film, a lone teenage girl and a rather cantankerous old man who doesn’t like noise from the rowdy teens whilst he’s watching the movie (so he’s automatically the most relatable character, right?) plus student Ana (Luciana Grasso) who is working the projector in order to give her overworked father the night off. Oh yes, and there’s a cinema usher who doesn’t take kindly to Ana giving him orders, so he’s got the arrow that says ‘red herring’ pointing at him right from the off.
And that really is it as far as plot and characters go, and so it is up to Maximiliano Contenti and his box of directorial tricks to try and keep up the mystery and suspense as we whittle down our paying customers lining up to get slaughtered, and this is where The Last Matinee comes up short because whilst the kills are really quite exceptional – amazing how brittle a skull can be with the right weapon – and will satisfy those gore freaks fed up of horror being all allegory and metaphor, the pacing and tone of the movie is off, and why should we care about a bunch of generic faces designed to be just fodder for the killer rather than characters we can like?
The first proper kill doesn’t happen until over 30 minutes in, which means we have 30 minutes of setup where people we have no empathy for just sort of wander about before deciding to sit down for the film they have paid to see, echoing what Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento did in Demons but they presented their characters in half the time and with twice the personality and, more importantly, a bit of backstory so we can relate or root for them. Add to that the odd tone where you’re not sure whether to be laughing or genuinely shocked and it becomes a bit jarring, especially as there is very little momentum between the kills to keep you fully engaged. And who is the killer? Just you wait until you find out as you’ll kick yourself, but not for the right reason and not as hard as you’ll want to kick the filmmakers as underwhelming does not even come close.
Ultimately, though, The Last Matinee just about satisfies the craving for a modern horror movie (it is set in 1993 but that’s modern enough, and it makes a change from the ‘70s or ‘80s) featuring some good old-fashioned gore and brutality, violence for violence’s sake and a huge nod to what has gone before. It doesn’t do anything that we haven’t seen in countless Italian slashers or even higher-end torture porn from the mid-2000s (in one not-so-subtle call-back that still causes a shudder no matter how many times you see it done), and whilst Maximiliano Contenti attempts those intricate Argento-style slow-motion set-pieces they just come across as a bit silly rather than artistic. The movie clocks in at 87 minutes but it does feel a lot longer thanks to the clumsy attempts at trying to create an atmosphere by not doing very much with a setting that lends itself perfectly to a killer-on-the-loose movie, instead settling on being underdeveloped and not sure whether it wants to be taken seriously as a love letter to gialli or be a knockabout piece of schlock. One suspects the former was the intention, but the latter is closer to what we get.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★