Ah, the theater: A place where strangers gather under one roof, seat themselves in front of a massive screen and let moving pictures carry them away for a couple of hours while a leering maniac stalks and slaughters them, one by one, with knives and rebar. And you thought the ticket prices were murder! Joke’s on you, plus all the poor schmucks getting dead in Maxi Contenti’s The Last Matinee, an ode to giallos and—maybe—a cautionary tale about going to the movies when unseen danger lurks all around, killing off audience members before their fellow moviegoers realize it.
If Contenti and screenwriter Manuel Facal intentionally wrapped their slasher around a COVID-19 metaphor, they hid it well: Finding that message takes no heavy lifting, true, but Contenti operates on vibes. The Last Matinee isn’t plotty or talky. It’s lurid and focused on atmosphere. There’s no explanation for the unfolding narrative. A killer (Ricardo Islas), referred to as “Asesino comeojos” in the credits, drives to a battered old movie theater in Montevideo, patiently waits for the last showing of the evening (2011’s
Frankenstein: Day of the Beast, which Islas directed) to start, then quietly goes from row to row introducing the smattering of attendees to their bloody deaths.
The Last Matinee starts off hinting at a broader story about its final girl, Ana (Luciana Grasso), the daughter of projectionist and theater owner Tomas (Franco Duran), a workaholic and inveterate smoker. Left to his own devices, Tomas would work himself to death. Ana forces him out of the booth and into a cab, promising to man the projector for him—she’s watched him do it for years, she tells him, and knows what she’s doing. Tomas is lucky. He takes a hike out of the picture in the first 13 minutes and avoids the carnage. Once he’s gone, and once the film’s assembly of victims in waiting sit down for the feature presentation, the asesino gets crackin’ (and stabbin’ and impalin’).
And that’s the deal. Contenti and Facal write dialogue exchanges between the characters paired off with one another from the start, and no one at any point wonders aloud about the killer’s identity. There’s no space given for pretense. The setup is the setup, the meat and potatoes that horror fans watch the genre for in the first place, made with great care and terrific FX. Take that as you like.
For horror aficionados who got their start with the genre around the mid-2010s, The Last Matinee will probably disappoint. The lack of obvious social commentary looks tinny and cheap in the age of self-serious art horror, while Contenti’s unabashed love of giallos and old school slashers can come off lazy. But the movie is neither of these, and actually cuts right to qualities as integral to horror as political critique. Violence is a key horror element. You can no more divorce the genre from the art of the kill than the art of subtext. The Last Matinee embraces the cat-and-mouse game between the killer and those to be killed as horror’s naughty pleasure. It’s central to the genre’s function in cinema. Contenti knows how to knock off his cast members with style.
But the film isn’t void of context or empty of meaning. Right about now most of us who live to watch movies in theaters are either dreading the thought of sitting in a crowded indoor space with people who may or may not have the plague (or the vaccine protecting them from the plague), or frenziedly paying the price of admission to see as many films as they can at their beloved establishments. (Maybe they’re aware that their hall pass to the theater has good odds of expiring come fall.) If you’re in the former category, The Last Matinee’s grimy, perverted idea of a good time deglamorizes movie theaters as sacred spaces, reminding Contenti’s viewers that many of them are decrepit shithouses that aren’t worth dying for. Whether you’re looking for validation for making the choice to stay home or not, it’s right here in the unlikeliest of places: A seedy slasher.
The Last Matinee makes no ode to the theatrical experience or wishful thinking about returning to our favorite arthouses once the pandemic abates and life gets back to something like “normal.” Instead the film smirks at the inevitability of its characters’ impending demise, profaning that sacred space with their spilled guts. (And eyeballs. The asesino has an eye fetish. Chew that one over.)
Director: Maxi Contenti
Writers: Maxi Contenti, Manuel Facal
Starring: Luciana Grasso, Ricardo Islas, Franco Duran
Release Date: August 24, 2021
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.