I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent most of the last year pining for the movie theater. The crunch of dropped popcorn beneath my feet. The reclining chair that’s still warm from the last butt that sat on it. That feeling of being hooked to the silver screen and leaving the world behind for 90 or so minutes. There’s nothing else quite like it. So when I saw that The Last Matinee — a movie set in that sacred space — was playing at Panic Fest 2021, I was drawn to it like a moth to a flickering projector.
Also known as Red Screening, The Last Matinee (Al morir la matinée) is a Spanish-language Uruguayan horror film directed by Maximiliano Contenti, who also wrote the screenplay with Manuel Facal. The film takes place at a slightly rundown movie theater called the Cine Opera where a handful of patrons decide to shelter from the rain and take in a late screening of Frankenstein: Day of the Beast (which is a real movie, by the way — more on that later).
“…a loving tribute to Giallo cinema […] the film’s killer might have stepped right out of one of Argento’s films.”
All the usual suspects are there. You’ve got the couple on an awkward date. The old man who’s probably going to sleep through the whole thing. The kid, Tomas (Franco Duran), who snuck in to watch a scary movie he’s far too young for (relatable). And, of course, the annoying teenagers who arrive late and won’t stop talking. These patrons are overseen by a bare-bones crew comprised of Ana (Luciana Grasso), who’s running the projector while trying to study for a test, and the annoying usher Mauricio (Pedro Duarte). Oh, and did I mention there’s a killer in their midst? Because there is — and before the end credits roll, he’s going to paint the theater red.
The Last Matinee is a loving tribute to Giallo cinema, and it’s no accident that a poster of Dario Argento’s Opera (1987) is hanging in the Cine Opera’s halls (in the perfect position to watch over the final showdown, no less). Clad in a black raincoat and black gloves with a knife in one hand, the film’s killer might have stepped right out of one of Argento’s films. But while he sure does love that knife, he also deploys several other creative methods to dispatch his victims, resulting in some surprisingly vicious kills.
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While Contenti doesn’t skimp on the gory details — especially when we discover the killer’s choice of movie theater snack — it’s one of the murders we barely see that will send chills down your spine. The camera focuses on Tomas, who is peeking out between his fingers during a particularly violent scene in Frankenstein: Day of the Beast. All the while, just out of focus, a murder is taking place a few rows behind him. It’s enough to make you a little edgy next time you’re sitting alone in a darkened theater, unaware of who you could be sharing an armrest with or what could be happening around you beneath the screams booming from the sound system…
With only a few exterior shots, The Last Matinee makes great use of its movie theater setting, with the projection room, lobby, and the theater itself all becoming slick with blood. Cinematographer Benjamin Silva and the lighting department use the projector to its full advantage, and the film manages to feel stylish and interestingly lit, despite being set largely in a dark room. Things do get a little silly as moviegoer after moviegoer is killed in their seat with no one around them — even those looking down from the balcony — seeming to notice. But hey, we’ve all seen films so absorbing that we might miss a murder or two, right?
As for the killer’s motive, The Last Matinee doesn’t really delve into this beyond the obligatory “they’re crazy” explanation. But since none of the victims are exactly people you’d want to be sitting next to in the theater, it’s entirely possible he just wanted some peace and quiet to enjoy the film. This is an especially amusing reading when you consider that the killer is played by none other than Ricardo Islas, the director of Frankenstein: Day of the Beast — the very film the patrons are talking through. That would be enough to make anyone snap.
The rest of the characters aren’t much more fleshed out than the killer, but that’s okay because they might as well have “dead meat” printed across their forehead. Like the best Giallo and slasher films, The Last Matinee’s skill lies in making obvious deaths surprising. We know these characters are going to get the chop, yet we still jump when that gloved hand appears out of the darkness to grab them.
“…The Last Matinee successfully turns a place of comfort for many of us into a nightmarish corpse factory.”
A blood-drenched love letter to all things Giallo, The Last Matinee successfully turns a place of comfort for many of us into a nightmarish corpse factory. The film’s pacing is a little rocky at times, but it makes up for it with some truly memorable and wince-worthy kills. The slower moments also make the glut of gore in the third act extra satisfying — and when the deliciously retro music sting from synthwave duo Power Glove kicks in, you know you’re in for a ride.
Maximiliano Contenti’s The Last Matinee (Al morir la matinée) celebrated its U.S. Premiere at Panic Fest 2021. Click HERE to follow our full coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know what you thought of the film and what obnoxious movie-theatre behaviour drives you absolutely mental over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.