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The Last Laugh
by Jeremy Berg

When failing stand-up comedian Myles (Steve Vanderzee) is given a chance to warm up for a veteran comic on his big comeback gig, opening night nerves take a back seat to a descent into madness as the theatre is plagued by a series of gruesome murders. As the only witness to the carnage and with stage time drawing closer, we're treated to ominous flashbacks from Myles' past as all the while the list of suspects gets shorter and shorter.

The Last Laugh is billed as 'Scream meets Suspiria' and while there are definite and plentiful nods to Wes Craven's second greatest franchise (you know it's true), the references to Suspiria need to be mined for and are tenuous at best. The muddy, muted colour palette lends nothing to the comparison and while there are hints of Italian Giallo every so often (into which Suspiria does not fall), the movie never feels like it goes far enough in any such direction to feel like a worthy genre piece; even in a genre like Giallo which evades definition at the best of times.

The Last Laugh, however, nails its pacing from the get go and Vanderzee carries his increasingly layered performance credibly, but clunky dialogue and wooden performances from a few of the supporting players trips the flow at points when it should be hitting beats surgically in its very short 80-minute runtime.

That being said, it does what it needs to do; keeps you guessing and playing a mental game of Clue inside the confines of the theatre. An opening montage of interior shots evokes memories of another Dario Argento joint; Lamberto Bava's Demons, and these little stylistic flairs elevate The Last Laugh to a show you don't want to push as it walks slowly in front of you on the sidewalk. The end comes all in good time, but it may leave some a little nonplussed.

Without giving anything away, the credibility of a divisive ending hinges on the preceding film being full of moments that can be picked apart and, in which, value and quality can be found in spades. When that happens, any ambiguity or raised eyebrows become a worthwhile catalyst for analysis. The Last Laugh, while getting to the finish line with a neatly-paced slow burn, lacks any real narrative meat on its bones and fails to exploit its premise, setting and concept anywhere beyond often the most basic building blocks of tension and fear.

There are glimpses of a better film in here, but sadly The Last Laugh doesn't go all in on the vibe it promises.

HMS received a screener of this film in exchange for honest review. The Last Laugh is out now for purchase or VOD rental.

Ryan Kennedy, HMS

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