I’m finishing out January with one more Shudder-based movie review, then I’m going to knock out the growing list of film review requests. Audre’s been patiently waiting for a review of Bicentennial Man (1999), which is over two hours long (probably why I keep putting it off—ha!); my Aunt Marilyn has requested The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021), which stars Benedict Cumberbatch; and my neighbor Bernard Fife has recommended White Lightning (1973), which he hopes will be part of a “Hick Flick” series of reviews.
I promise to get to all of these films, and as February is the month of love, it seems like as good a time as any to show my readers some love. If you’ve got any recommendations to make, get them in now, while I’m awash in this generous mood. Fortunately for you, dear readers, I also experience a crushing, crippling sense of obligation, so chances are if you ask nicely, I’ll review it. Just leave a comment or e-mail me.
But it’s still January for one more day, so I get to pick the movie. This weekend, I stumbled upon the 2020 Spanish-language film The Last Matinee (or Al morir la matinée). The film is a joint production of Uruguay and Argentina, and takes place in Montevideo in 1993.
That alone made it unique, as most Spanish-language horror films seem to take place in Mexico or Spain (Spain, like Italy, apparently has a thriving horror film industry). What further drew me to the film is that it takes place in a failing movie theater in the heart of the city, and the events unfold during a screening of a cheesy slasher film.
The setting really is a huge part of the story, which involves a fairly small cast of well-drawn characters. The theater is old, yes, but you can tell it is a special place: leather chairs, brass rails, green marbled wall tiles, etc. It looks like a once-grand movie palace, now reduced to showing late-night B movies and hustling bums off the premises.
The film opens with a black-clad figure entering the theatre as a screening lets out, complete with a little kid spilling a bunch of candy on the stairs. This shark will prey upon the tiny audience: three teenagers; a couple on an awkward date; a young boy who snuck in; and a girl that one of the teenagers compares to Brook Shields.
Other characters include the heroine, Ana, come to relieve her overworked and unhealthy father in the projectionist booth; the ticket taker; and the obnoxious security guard, Mauricio. Ana’s father is a portly older man who smokes like a salmon, and who reluctantly leaves Ana to work the projector after she reassures him she knows how to do it after watching him for years.
Ana sets about studying for her engineering classes, only to have the annoying Mauricio interrupt her with mindless chatter. She kicks him out of the booth, locking the door behind her—a move that will save her life.
The film takes a long time to get to the killing, but that’s a good thing: the script takes its time to introduce each of the characters, so their deaths are far more impactful to the viewer. The teenagers, consisting of a girl and two boys, egg one of the boys, Goni, into talking to the Brook Shields girl. The woman on the awkward date turns out to be pretty forward with the nervous man who has brought her to the movie, even though she is generally disinterested in him and the film. The little boy is absolutely terrified by the cheesy movie, to the point that he wets himself.
These touches really establish the characters well, and when the killings begin, it almost feels like a different movie. I actually enjoyed the establishing scenes with the characters more than the desperate scramble to survive the night, which is what these slashers inevitably must become.
That said, the deaths are pretty wild. Mauricio is taken out early, after seeing the fortunate ticket taker off for the evening. The next death was rough, though: Goni, having worked up the courage to talk to the lonely girl, ends up kissing her. The two seem genuinely interested in one another, having formed a real connection—but then are connected permanently with a sharp piece of rebar through their heads. That was a gruesome one to witness, and even more tragic because they’re just two youngsters falling in love.
After this scene, the killer dispatches the cinema patrons one by one. Ultimately, Ana becomes aware that something is horribly wrong, and does her best to get the remaining survivors to safety.
The killer is particularly frightening. In a creepy scene in the projection booth, it is revealed that the killer collects his victims’ eyeballs—and then he eats one. He has them floating in a big jar like they’re pickled eggs. It is disgusting, and even as desensitized as I am to this kind of schlocky gore, it got to me.
Humorously enough, what caused me more anxiety than the killer’s next appearance was my concern that the projector would stall, causing the film to burn. Ana’s father sets this up early in the film, when he explains to Ana what to do if the celluloid burns—glue the reels together while people jeer, then get the film going again. I have worked live events for so long, I know that this is the kind of thing that I dread happening.
Sure enough, what the script sets up, it pays off: the film does stall and burn, and Ana mistakes the audience members’ screams as their impatient jeering. Fortunately, Ana knows how to fix it, though it becomes a moot point (obviously). Still, the entire time, I was thinking, “That’s my worst nightmare.” Probably worse than being chased around a theater by a crazed, eyeball-eating killer!
But I digress. The Last Matinee is a great twist on the slasher genre. I’m not big into slasher films, but this was a creative take on the genre. The setting is memorable, and it gave me a bit more sense for what the capital of Uruguay was like in the early 1990s.
Just be sure to keep one eye open the next time you’re making out in the movie theater. It might save your life.