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The horror legend behind Freddy Krueger puts his claws away for good in this low-budget British-made psycho-thriller, an affectionate semi-homage to Wes Craven‘s canon of self-referential slasher flicks. Playing a mild-mannered movie projectionist with a hidden dark side, A Nightmare on Elm Street veteran Robert Englund proves that he can also do low-key, nuanced menace just as effectively as murderous mania. Also starring Game of Thrones regular Finn Jones, The Last Showing is the third feature by the young English writer-director Phil Hawkins.
Picked up for distribution by Screen Media in the U.S. and Sony overseas, this mildly scary genre exercise is likely to pull in modest crowds based more on the fanboy appeal of Englund and the high TV profile of Jones than on its own meager merits. Following its world premiere at FrightFest 2014 in London today, The Last Showing goes on brief U.K. cinema release before making its home entertainment debut next week. A similarly low-key U.S. launch follows in the fall.
The setup is deliciously simple. A flirtatious young couple on their first date, Martin (Jones) and Allie (Emily Berrington), visit their local multiplex cinema for a midnight screening of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes 2, a heavy-handed in-joke rendered even more labored with additional references to the Elm Street series. But the movie is being screened by Stuart (Englund), a curmudgeonly old celluloid purist who detests the vulgar new era of digital cinema and gory torture porn. He is also a soft-spoken psychopath with a prescripted plot for revenge against the modern world, starting with Martin and Allie.
Stuart’s scheme begins with him slipping a heavy sedative into Allie’s drink before trapping the young couple inside the empty cinema overnight. Using a handheld camcorder in tandem with the in-house CCTV system, he directs his prisoners as if they are actors in a real-life horror movie. Martin and Allie become unwitting puppets in a psychological battle of wits that involves a staged homicide, accusations of date rape and a lethal intervention by armed police.
The Last Showing has a strong pulpy premise, but ultimately lacks the sly humor and jolting shock value required to make it come alive on screen. Jones and Berrington both give wooden performances, not helped by some risibly stilted dialogue. More seriously, Hawkins never makes their predicament feel plausible nor even especially frightening. However dramatically you light it, a sterile multiscreen cinema in suburban England will never be the Overlook Hotel or a remote woodland cabin. The final showdown also feels contrived, illogical and anticlimactic.
Only Englund elevates this thin material beyond its amateurish default setting, clearly savoring his autumnal transformation into a Vincent Price-like elder statesman with a wobbly but agreeably fruity English accent. It is a pity Hawkins could not have exploited this smart bit of stunt casting more effectively, adding extra shades of darkness to Stuart’s psychosis as his Machiavellian plot deepens. Englund’s evil mastermind contains echoes of some legendary gothic villains, from The Phantom of the Opera and The Abominable Doctor Phibes to the more recent Saw franchise. Alas, he ultimately comes across like a slightly less scary cousin of Mr. Burns in The Simpsons.
Production company: The Philm Company, Little Fish Films
Starring: Robert Englund, Finn Jones, Emily Berrington, Malachi Kirby, Keith Allen
Director: Phil Hawkins
Producers: Alexandra Baranska, Phil Hawkins
Cinematographer: Ed Moore
Editor: Paul Griffiths-Davies
Music: Richard Bodgers
Sales company: SC Films International
Rated 15 (U.K.), 85 minutes
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