Fantastic Fest 2011: ‘Derniere Seance (Last Screening)’ – for avid horror fans, it is a modest delight

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Derniere Seance (Last Screening)

Directed by Laurent Achard

Screenplay by Laurent Achard and Frédérique Moreau

2011, France

If Last Screening’s greatest flaw is the silliness of its premise, it’s greatest success is director Laurent Achard unflaggingly earnest commitment to that premise. It won’t be spoiled in this review, but it may have something to do with a series of one-eared female corpses. And maybe with cinema. And it definitely has something to do with the troubled, introvert of a cinema projectionist who is responsible for said corpses.

Sylvain (Pascal Cervo) manages a classic Parisian cinema and screens the French Can Can daily to anywhere between one and three patrons. Naturally, it’s not a profitable venture and the owner arranges for the cinema to be sold and reconfigured. Sylvain proves more than just resistant to the idea–he is in complete denial and continues to arrange screenings well after the scheduled close. In the meantime, he awkwardly courts Manon (Charlotte van Kemmel), a young aspiring actress, and spends his nights killing strange women and cutting off their ears.

Last Screening is a suffocating film. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, but spending an entire movie with Sylvain proves unsettling and exhausting. This is both because Cervo is a skilled, terrifying screen presence and because Sylvain spends much of the film not saying very much or quietly killing people. Brilliantly, the people Sylvain approaches and murders are often incredibly engaging and interesting characters. One especially heartbreaking scene captures a middle-aged woman singing karaoke and slowly beginning to fall apart and weep over the course of the song. It’s moving and immediately very revealing and then Sylvain kills her. Sylvain, notably, gets no such scene. He infrequently will show some semblance of human emotion, but his humanity is so completely absent that his pain, too, feels alien.

Told in lingering takes and composed, rigid shots, Last Screening is paced outside of some viewers’ comfort zones. Achard is also deeply, deeply in love with cinema, and even if you don’t follow specific references, Screening is a film that proudly displays its reverence for the art-form. This is not as much a film about a serial killer as it is a film about image and sound. Screening functions as a playground in which Achard can create a string of oddly gorgeous shots and play with bursts and waves of noise.

Which is not to say he has forgotten about the rest of movies. Cervo acts the hell out of Sylvain, and the man’s stare will give you nightmares. Cervo and van Kemmel’s chemistry is bizarre but undoubtedly strong. Achard has a good command of tension and an almost imperceptibly understated sense of humor. The premise, once it is revealed, certainly seems a bit heavy handed and more than a bit silly. But if you’re ready to be ok with that, there is joy to be had in the cinematic avenues such a premise makes available. Last Screening will not play well to everybody, but, for avid horror fans, it is a modest delight.

-Emmet Duff

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