Studio: Screen Media Darkside
Director: Phil Hawkins
Writer: Phil Hawkins
Producer: Phil Hawkins, Alexandra Baranska
Stars: Robert Englund, Finn Jones, Emily Berrington, Malachi Kirby, Keith Allen
A demented film projectionist forces a young couple trapped in his movie theater to star in a homemade horror thriller.
Stuart Lloyd is a perhaps slightly meeker version of Michael Douglas’ “D-Fens” from “Falling Down,” though just as dangerously unstable. Even without the suitably pitched opening montage, you can immediately pinpoint his personality by appearance alone. Clad in a sweater vest, spectacles, and a graying mustache, this is a man as likely to be a schoolteacher as he is an unwitting guest star on “To Catch a Predator.”
Much like another movie character, Robin Williams’ Sy from “One Hour Photo,” Stuart has spent a solitary life devoted to an occupation most people take for granted. A movie theater film projectionist, Stuart now finds himself a dinosaur in the increasingly digital world of film exhibition. Distraught, disgruntled, and disastrously poised for a mental break, Stuart has a devious plan in mind for reinventing his career tract.
Meanwhile, young couple Martin and Allie are just starting out on their freshly fostered romance. Allie is a horror movie buff. Martin is not. Nevertheless, Allie thinks a midnight screening of “The Hills Have Eyes 2” will make an ideal evening for the two of them. For Stuart, it is an ideal opportunity to embark on his next project. During that time spent alone in the dark of his projection booth, Stuart has outlined the story for a horror movie of his own. Martin and Allie are going to be the stars, even though they don’t know that they will be following Stuart’s twisted script.
On a date early in their relationship, and thus presumably trying to make a good impression, Martin behaves annoyingly enough that Allie sarcastically labels him as both “macho and cheap.” When not being pushy with coercing physical affection, Martin repeatedly insults the fright flick nature of Allie’s date choice as though he was dragged there at gunpoint.
“The Last Showing” is a suspense film about a couple seeing a Wes Craven classic who end up roped into a madman’s scheme to create a bloody thriller of his own and it stars one of the most recognizable genre icons there has ever been. Everything about the production and the premise is tailored for maximum appeal to horror film fans, yet the primary protagonist is someone who proclaims that horror movies are “all so cheesy.” Part of the theme may be to put someone disdainful of scary movies inside a real nightmare scenario, but it counteracts the need to make Martin relatable to an audience that doesn’t identify with his attitude, and doesn’t find the way he woos Allie to be attractive.
Worse than being unlikable is that Martin is a maddening dolt.
When Martin is first forced to play Stuart’s game, at a time when he has not yet learned Stuart’s identity, the projectionist shows Martin a few pieces of footage from his “film.” One is of Martin and Allie arriving at the theater and meeting Stuart’s manager, Clive. The security camera pans, zooms, and records the entire encounter on video. The next scene played for Martin is cut in a sequence to specifically show Allie drinking from a soda cup, coughing, and then passing out in the bathroom before her capture.
So when Martin confronts the theater manager later, why on Earth does he presume Clive to be the culprit when he witnessed Stuart giving Allie the poisoned drink just a few minutes earlier? Who does he think was operating the security camera while he and Allie were physically bumping into Clive?
The ultimate problem with the movie’s setup is that it is never clever enough to justify the suspension of disbelief. Hitchcockian thrillers like “North by Northwest” or “Open Windows” (review here) create suspense in spite of far-fetched plot turns by engaging their characters in equally-matched battles of wit. Except Martin has none. He is outmatched against Stuart at every corner, making their confrontation less a game of cat-and-mouse and more a case of puma versus ant. Music swells, countdown timers tick, and there is still no sense of urgency because it never feels like anything will go against Stuart’s pre-scripted scheme.
Of course it is understood that screenplays have to take some logic leaps in order for a story to exist. But here is a partial list of the “oh, come on” contrivances employed by “The Last Showing,” any deviation from which would immediately set fire to Stuart’s plan:
The theater is called Midnight Cinema and has eight auditoriums, yet “The Hills Have Eyes 2” is the only movie actually screening at midnight and Martin and Allie are the only people who show up. Even funnier, Allie has hard tickets in hand from pre-purchasing their admissions, perhaps overestimating demand for seats a little too much.
After Allie drinks drugged lemonade, she isn’t rendered unconscious until she later runs to the bathroom alone, thereby enabling her to be secretly captured. She could have passed out in the lobby, in her seat, or in Martin’s arms, but the drug doesn’t kick in until she happens to be out of Martin’s sight.
Stuart frames Clive’s murder to look like a robbery committed by Martin. Clive’s wallet stuffed with bills from the concession register then conveniently falls from Martin’s pocket right after he reunites with Allie, giving her the required reason to suspect that Martin might be up to something shady.
This comes after Allie falls ill again and Martin lets her run to the bathroom and separate from him while he goes outside to stand silently for no reason. Anyone with a sand grain for brain matter would have said, “you can vomit on your way out the door, but we have to leave now!” Martin has already smashed a box office window, a popcorn bin, and killed a man, but he wouldn’t want Allie throwing up anywhere other than a toilet.
Mind you that not once during the entire sequence from when he rescues her to when she comes to view him as a threat does Martin ever think to scream, “there’s a psychopath projectionist tormenting us!” Instead, he just sobs into his hands as Allie cracks wise about subsisting on vending machine chocolates.
The frustration doesn’t end there. An initially suspicious detective rivals Martin for obliviousness. Emily Berrington is completely cute, totally charming, and delightful to watch. So “The Last Showing” knocks her unconscious and leaves her tied up offscreen for a half hour where she is of no value at all. Stuart the projectionist fares far better with his characterization, although even his motivation over being marginalized is underplayed when it could have been a more scathing commentary about the transition of physical film to digital projection.
While the supporting characters and storyline falter, “The Last Showing” rises in places from an inspired Robert Englund performance and production design making the most of an intriguing Cineplex location. Englund fans will not be disappointed with his meaty star turn in a role that is concurrently confident and cowardly. Stuart is an intriguing movie villain because he doesn’t possess much physical power. His careful planning is the only thing keeping him in control.
An awkwardly unconvincing British accent notwithstanding, “The Last Showing” is a terrific showcase for Englund’s unique screen presence and performance prowess. As an entertaining suspense thriller however, “The Last Showing” is clipped by baffling character behavior and predictable twists that are not at the level they need to be to tickle the mind with satisfaction.
Review Score: 45