On a rainy evening in Montevideo in 1993, a hulking figure enters a shabby movie theater where the day’s final showing of a horror feature is about to begin. The auditorium is almost empty — a young couple here, some boisterous teens there — and, in the projection booth, a distracted student (Luciana Grasso) is subbing for her ailing father. An encounter between the ominous figure and a young boy results in a dreamlike shot of multicolored candy balls bouncing down a staircase — an image that will later be repeated, only with far more disgusting spherical objects.
“The Last Matinee” epitomizes a style I think of as slow horror — not in the sense of a foot-dragging narrative, but in the extreme patience and relish with which it attends to its abominations. The steady hand on this particular wheel belongs to the Uruguayan director Maxi Contenti, whose name hints at a placid temperament, yet whose tastes run to the gloriously gory. In one prime example, captured with amused precision by the cinematographer Benjamín Silva, the blood from a smoker’s sliced throat is upstaged by the milky haze of his final puff.
Tipping his hat to the Italian thriller genre known as giallo, Contenti (who wrote the unfussy script with Manuel Facal) sets up a string of witty, highly specific slayings of audience members unaware they’re both voyeurs and prey. Underscoring this cheeky duality, the filmmakers cast Ricardo Islas — the real-life director of the 2011 feature playing in the theater — as the killer. He’s described in the press notes only as the Eye-Eater, which tells you everything you need to know; all I know is I may never look at a jar of pickles the same way again.
The Last Matinee
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. In Spanish, with subtitles. In theaters.