We love a good Giallo film. We really do. A killer in leather gloves with a gruesome, fetishistic motive; hardcore violence shot in silhouette over a solid red background; visual and plot synchronicities that don’t really mean anything, but add to the overall feel of the film — it’s all so wonderful, but it’s all part of an era long since passed. The time of the Italian super slasher has come and gone, but fret not, Giallo fans! There has been a recent resurgence of the subgenre, which takes the classic stylings of Argento, Fulci, Bava and their ilk, and gives them a shiny, contemporary flavor. Knife + Heart brought in an expressly queer vein, Porno added comedy, and films like Berberian Sound Studio and Beyond the Black Rainbow brought surreal techie paranoia to the mix. All of these examples are riffs on the genre. The Last Matinee, however, is less of an update and more of a recreation of its influences. Think Death Proof rather than Planet Terror. If a little bit of film grain were applied to the image, you’d never know that it was released here in 2021.
This is mostly a good thing, as it’s refreshing to see a movie with goals no loftier than slinging some imaginative and beautifully shot violence, but it’s a bit of a setback as well, since there’s not much going on here in terms of larger story or theme. But when a teen gets his throat cut open while smoking a cigarette and smoke comes out of the wound as blood pulses from his arteries, who needs thematic weight? Not me.
The story takes place in 1993 in Montevideo, Uruguay. We follow Ana, who works at a movie theater alongside her father. They’re the only two projectionists on staff, so when Dad has to take some sick time, it’s up to Ana to fill in for him. She’d rather be studying, but duty calls. Meanwhile, a hooded killer has started offing audience members and staff in gruesome ways, and it’s up to Ana to save as many people as possible without getting slaughtered herself.
Amongst the patrons are a homeless man sleeping one off in the dark of a theater, a child who has snuck into a movie he shouldn’t be seeing, a young woman who has been stood up for a date, and a trio of drunk teenagers just trying to cause some trouble. It’s a solid buffet of fresh meat for the kill, and all are individually interesting enough to follow as their numbers dwindle. What makes the film so easy to watch is that it’s not precious as to who dies or how. Literally anyone could go at any moment, and they frequently do. It takes most of the film’s runtime for any of the characters to realize something horrible is afoot, which means that there’s no need to contrive a “let’s all split up” moment. Each pod of potential victims is on their own trip, each interacting with the plot in their own way until the bodies start piling up.
Where this leaves things feeling a tad incomplete is that the story lacks the mystery inherent to so many classic Giallo films. The Last Matinee is not a whodunit or even a why-dunit. It’s a this is happening, so you’d better run-it. On the one hand it’s refreshingly simple, on the other, there’s little to hold onto but style. Luckily, there’s an excess of said style, all very creatively employed, and the performances mirror this energy flawlessly.
Writer/director Maximiliano Contenti (co-written with Manuel Facal) has put together a hell of a talent reel with this film, exhibiting his command of scene geography, lighting, and creatively staged gore gags (credit also due to cinematographer Benjamin Silva, who hits a homerun here). Fans of horror and Giallo will have plenty to celebrate with The Last Matinee, but even more to celebrate in the announcement of a major new talent. Whatever Contenti cooks up next is going to be awesome!
Directed by Maximiliano Contenti
Written by Maximiliano Contenti, Manuel Facal
Starring Luciano Grasso, Franco Duran, Julieta Spinelli
Runitme 88 minutes
The Last Matinee is currently on VOD, digital, and DVD courtesy of Dark Star Pictures and Bloody Disgusting