For a movie about comedians, writer/director Jeremy Berg’s The Last Laugh is utterly void of mirth. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a film that takes itself far too seriously – it lacks vibrancy and life all together.
Steve Vanderzee is Myles, a struggling stand-up comic who lands a career-making gig as the opening act for a washed-up comedian’s big comeback show. As Myles prepares to take the stage, a masked killer stalks the theatre – picking off the staff one-by-one.
The Last Laugh bills itself as “Suspiria meets Scream”, but has little in common with either film beyond a masked, knife-wielding killer and a generous use of red lighting. Any success it manages to have in terms of psychological horror can be largely attributed to cinematographer Chris Joseph Taylor and editor Autumn Lisa Mason. Their skilled touch and technical proficiency render The Last Laugh watchable, and occasionally even beautiful.
But, there is only so much that good editing and camerawork can do to save a lacklustre script and uninspired performances. Vanderzee’s Myles, besides being a painfully unfunny comic, is just boring. Berg has given the character an unspecified psychiatric disorder and a traumatic past involving a woman whose exact relationship to Myles is never specified. This vagueness is not a source of mystery or intrigue, instead it seems to stem from a general laziness and lack of concrete character development. As a character, Myles does not change or grow and while his mental instability is established early on, it is not developed enough to work on a thematic or metaphorical level.
Vanderzee isn’t entirely to blame for this bad performance. It is easy to point the finger at an actor, but that can hardly be the case when every single performance in a film possesses the same mannequin-esque quality. There is a general lack of energy throughout that makes it difficult to connect with the characters on-screen.
If I were to give Berg the benefit of a doubt, I might say that this emotional void is purposeful and that Berg’s goal with this film to present a portrait of a human being so damaged that they cannot form genuine connections or authentic human responses. Such a reading would be far too generous. If this was Berg’s intention, it does not work. The lack of nuance in both the character and story fall short. Add awkward dialogue and a lagging pace to the mix and you are left with a film that is more likely to put you to sleep than send shivers up your spine.
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