Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks
“I’m the projectionist here, you see. Well, was. Now they’ve got me shovelling popcorn till I’m able to retire. I’m just a relic of a bygone era. I saw what your boyfriend did to you.”
That’s Stuart Lloyd speaking – a painstaking technician and cinephile becoming obsolete in the hideously-hued digital multiplex where no-one cares any more about the finer ‘aspects’ of projection. Downsized and humiliated at work by a manager (Malachi Kirby) who is less than half his age, Stuart may cut a mild-mannered, fussy, avuncular figure – but he is also the worm that turned, plotting (on a screenwriter’s index cards) an elaborate revenge that will require him to be director, cameraman, editor and heroic lead in a special film of his own making. The fact that he is played by Robert Englund, best known as the face of murderous dream demon Freddie Krueger in Wes Craven’s Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, hints (to us at least) of the darker side beneath his sweet-seeming mask.
Young, horny and yet to consummate their relationship, Martin (Finn Jones) and Allie (Emily Berrington) receive free tickets to a midnight screening of The Hills Have Eyes 2 and set out on a date in the otherwise empty theatre. Stuart’s trap is now set, as the hapless couple will find themselves divided, isolated, framed and set against each other in a deadly scenario that the projectionist carefully manipulates – and films – within the confines of the locked multiplex.
If the film that Martin and Allie go to see is, as Allie puts it, “pre-Elm Street” Craven, and therefore an “acquired taste” for its irony-free treatment of “survival, revenge, primal fears”, The Last Showing is more post-Scream in its postmodern play on those very same themes. All the cat and mouse here may come with a familiar pedigree, but writer/director Phil Hawkins cleverly sets it within a cinematic hall of mirrors (amidst visible posters for films called ‘Ensnared’ and ‘Gullible Killers’), where we see a film unfold that is also its own hidden making-of. In this way, the horror continually reflects upon itself, while Stuart provides the knowing, slightly jaded commentary (“Perfect dialogue – I didn’t actually think someone would say that in real life”).
Part of the message here appears to be that there’s no school like the old school, as we are positioned to get behind Stuart and his distaste for modern theatres, modern horror films, modern audiences and modernity itself – except that Stuart proves remarkably progressive in his conservatism, happily shooting digitally, deploying edit technology on the fly, learning all his criminal skills from the Internet, and remotely directing a movie in which his actors are not even aware that they have been cast. Which is to say that Stuart moves with the times, and has truly been underestimated by everyone.
The problem with all this, though, is that for all its clever-cleverness, The Last Showing is neither particularly scary nor funny. You can admire its self-referential construction, its meta murder, its games with perspective – but in the end, Stuart is less another iconic villain for Englund than a self-satisfied smartarse with a sadistically psychotic streak. That said, the closing hint at a sequel, while not exactly welcome to the viewer, represents a real challenge to any writer.