By: Brendan Graham
There’s something magical about a traditional movie theater. The well-worn seats, the flicker of a 35mm projector, and the smell of popcorn filling the auditorium as you watch a classic B-grade horror film, late in the evening. In the audience, you’ve got the screamers, the talkers, the kids who snuck in, and, of course, the couple only there to get frisky. The crowd gets rowdy, but everyone is having a good time sharing the experience of horror cinema, what could go wrong? When a hooded figure with a mysterious duffel bag and a pickle jar filled with god knows what enters the theater, all hell breaks loose, and you get the Uruguyan Giallo-inspired slasher - THE LAST MATINEE or AL MORIR LA MATINEE.
The film takes place in 1993, on a rainy night in Montevideo, Uruguay. The previous family film has just ended at a run-down movie theater, and dozens of children are exiting the theater, all hyped up on sugar, while their parents try to wrangle them in. The final film of the evening, a movie loosely based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, attracts a very particular crowd - starting with our killer, who buys a ticket, and wanders in to survey the theater. Other unfortunates include an awkward couple on their first date (Played by Patrizio Porzio and Emanuel Sobre), three drunk and rambunctious teens who have been kicked out of this theater many times (Played by Julieta Spinelli, Vladimir Knazevs, Bruno Salvatti), a pretty young woman, whom one of the other teens is already lusting for (Played by Daiana Carigi), a cranky, old man (Played by Julio Troisi), and a young boy who hid after the last show, in order to watch the scary movie (Played by Franco Doran).
Arriving just before the show, Ana (Luciana Grasso) has come to send her ill father home after another projectionist calls out of his shift, leaving her father to work a double. She’s seen her father do this job ever since she was a young child, and knows exactly how everything works. Her father assures her that seldom does something go wrong. Ana is a college student who is studying for an engineering exam, and when the main usher Mauricio (Played by Pedro Duarte) won’t stop harassing her, she decides to lock him out of the projection booth and focus on her work. Of course, she is the last to realize what is happening in the theater throughout the feature presentation, as the unfortunate audience is picked off one by one by the black-gloved, hooded killer named "Como Ojos" or “Eye-Eater” (Played by Ricardo Islas - Fun fact: He directed the movie that is being shown on the screen during this film).
First off, the film knows why you are there, and what you’re expecting to see. It revels in the stylistic, saturated colors that remind one of 70’s Giallo films or 80’s Grindhouse fare. The sound design is sleek, and the score by Hernán González is a synth-fueled dream that will thrill any genre enthusiast. Our protagonist Ana is likable and sweet, and carries the film well as she discovers the horrors occurring inside the theater with genuine fear. The rowdy teenagers, especially Ángela (Spinelli), are a fun addition, making jabs at each other, and are a perfect representation of those kids you’d want to yell at in a movie for talking. Director Maximiliano Contenti builds the tension gradually, but doesn’t drag his feet. The kills start off tamer than you’d expect, but once we’ve reached the third act, it doesn’t hold back. Throats are slashed, heads are bashed in, and the killer definitely earns his name. The gore is well done, with some incredible practical makeup effects. Viewers who have difficulty witnessing eyeball trauma should probably avoid this one. Horror fans looking to squirm, this film has you covered.
Where the film loses a lot of its steam is with the killer himself. His mysterious introduction does give the audience a little bit of unease, but as the movie progresses, he becomes less menacing. He’s rather clumsy and often silly as he carries around his, as I call it, murder bag. There’s no motive, or reason for this senseless bloodbath (although it could just be for the eyeballs). Most of the early kills are fairly uninventive and happen too quickly. The rest of the cast is fairly generic, and the young boy Tomás (Duran) struggles to emote properly during tense scenes. Characters also make some head-scratching, foolish choices, but that’s also a typical genre trope.
THE LAST MATINEE doesn’t bring anything new to the table, and finds itself feeling more silly than scary, with an antagonist that isn’t terribly threatening for most of the film. However, there is a distinct love for retro slashers that spills out all over the movie, just like the blood. It’s hard not to smile (and sometimes wince) as we get to relive an era of cinema that reveled in just being nasty for the fun of it. Don’t let the subtitles scare you away, if you’re a fan of classic slashers, you’ll want to buy a ticket to this matinee.