Dir: Phil Hawkins
Written By: Phil Hawkins
Starring: Robert Englund, Emily Berrington, Finn Jones
Running Time – 85 mins.
UK Premiere : Frightfest 2014
An elderly projectionist, hurt at his life’s passion being rendered unimportant as a result of the influx of digital media, decides to get revenge by trapping an unsuspecting young couple in a cinema and utilising them as the doomed protagonists in his very own horror movie.
At the recent Flashback Weekend, in Chicago, legendary horror icon Robert Englund donned his infamous Freddy Krueger make-up, supposedly, for the last time, breaking the hearts of millions of fans who simply cannot imagine the man as anyone else – let alone, another villain.
Here, as spurned projectionist Stuart, he’s virtually unrecognisable from the Englund we know and love, his features hidden beneath dowdy spectacles, a fusty moustache and a frumpy cardigan, all of which combine to make him look much older than his 67 years. If one were to sit down and imagine the exact opposite villain to the vicious, wise-cracking Krueger, Stuart would be him. It’s wonderful, then, that Englund inhabits the character just as much, if not more, than that which made his name.
Phil Hawkins, who takes writing, producing and directing credits, is noted mostly for his work in commercials, but The Last Showing is the work of a seasoned pro, its scope impressively ambitious – especially considering it takes place entirely in a single location. Finn Jones (of Hollyoaks and Game Of Thrones fame) and Emily Berrington (currently being very shrill and irritating in box office hit The Inbetweeners 2) are young couple Martin and Allie, who attend a midnight screening of The Hills Have Eyes 2 – “It’s pre-Elm Street, so it is an acquired taste” is just one of many on-the-nose references – to their detriment.
The setting for The Last Showing is novel, but the premise is not – it’s simply a case of the fed up Stuart choosing two unlucky people and then manipulating them into doing what he wants. In choosing the cinema, however, Hawkins puts an interesting spin on an all-too-familiar idea, while Richard Dodgers’ lively score ensures the mood never lulls, even when Finn is standing around, reading instructions off a screen.
The cinema itself is presented as Stuart’s personal playground, with him in control of everything from the lights to the doors to the escalators. Allie and Martin are, essentially, pulled into a game of cat and mouse but a crucial third act twist reveals that she isn’t quite sure from whom she should be running, which is just one example of Stuart’s very clever manipulation. Thankfully, he isn’t a one-note villain. He isn’t cruel or sadistic, at one point explaining to a victim he’s choking with a film reel that he finds torture porn distasteful, and he doesn’t intend for his film to revert to such ghastly tactics in order to be successfully scary.
Happily, this is the case for The Last Showing also, as there is virtually no bloodshed throughout, with the emphasis on psychological warfare instead of mindless violence. This could easily have been a very gruesome affair, and indeed the blurb sells it as though it might be, but to Hawkins’ credit, the tension is built without the need for someone to be hoisted up and slashed repeatedly for ten minutes.
Englund makes Stuart an incredibly empathetic villain, particularly when he tells his ex-manager “This is just a job to you, this was my life” One suspects that Hawkins has a lot to say about the decline of projectionists in the UK, too, and rightly so. Stuart’s is a very real, quite heart-breaking predicament and, much like the couple he traps, he has no control over it. Although he is, ultimately, a very disturbed individual, it’s difficult not to root for him, even with a strong performance from Finn Jones juxtaposed against his own.
Martin spends much of the film alone, taking instructions from Stuart, and yet it never once feels as though Jones is reciting lines or acting without thinking. He reacts the way most normal people would, given the circumstances, and when Allie starts to turn on him, it’s terribly frustrating. However, this is Englund’s film and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else giving a central performance quite as nuanced as his portrayal of Stuart.
The denouement lets the character down slightly, and some may argue it’s a bit too easy, but Stuart is so enthralling as a character that it doesn’t really matter. Although it may not seem like the most claustrophobic of settings, a massive, multiplex cinema suddenly feels tiny once the protagonists are trapped inside and, thanks to some clever tricks, escape never truly feels possible, which is how most of the film’s scare factor is achieved.
The Last Showing manages to be consistently thrilling and exciting thanks to a key central performance from Englund and a great location in which he can properly let loose. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it’s impressively ambitious and thoroughly enjoyable. Whether Englund really has said goodbye to Freddy Krueger for good remains to be seen, but if he continues to choose meaty roles like this it won’t matter either way – the best is yet to come.
The Last Showing features on the Main Screens at Frightfest on Friday, August 22nd
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