Reviewed Mar 17, 2012
Xander Kane’s review:
It is not often that I step outside the horror realm to write a review. However, to be fair, The Last Circus is a film whose meshing into the horror genre is debatable- and this debate is one of the many reasons this 2010 Spanish film begs to be talked about amongst genre fans.
Yes, it is a tragic love story at its core, but The Last Circus offers much more than that. In 1934 a general and his infantry unit interrupt a circus. The general orders everyone attending the circus to grab a weapon- a war is taking place between France and Spain, and their services are needed. However, no story, especially one with a debated focus on horror elements, would be quite complete without the element of a machete toting circus clown...
As fate would have it, the general and his militants run out of guns- so they give one of the clowns, still in costume, a machete instead. This particular clown is dressed as a woman and forges through the crowd slicing men with ease, and singlehandedly massacres and entre platoon. Arterial spray is covering the scene and it almost seems this clown is taking joy in it. After this scene the clown is knocked unconscious and wakes up to a military official yelling at him. To make a long story short this clown is forced to die in a work prison leaving his son, Javier, behind. Now, considering that we have only traversed the first few minutes of the movie, it’s probably safe to say that one could add this movie to the list of those which are highly likely to cause Coulrophobia... as if all of us were not scared enough by Pennywise as a child.
Fast forward to 1973. Javier (the aforementioned son) has struggled all his life with his father’s prophecy that he too will become a clown, but as his father’s last words dictate, "You are the sad clown"...
Several years later he does in fact become the “sad clown sidekick” to the brutish Sergio in a circus, and Sergio is a forced to be feared. Sergio is the definition of masochistic- he finds incredible pleasure in others’ pain; especially his girlfriend, whom he is constantly, and cruelly violent towards. It almost goes without saying that everyone is terrified of Sergio and does anything they can to avoid confrontations with him. However, as Sergios’ sidekick, Javier cannot escape these confrontations and is constantly ridiculed and tormented in the name of entertainment. Javier does find a bright spot in his situation though as he meets and falls in love with an acrobat named Natalia... the only problem with this is she is Sergio's girlfriend, the one he finds pleasure in hurting.
In terms of gore, this film truly has some memorable moments. These moments involve a self-inflicted burn from a hot iron pressed on Javier’s lips (as it is pulled away you can see that the lips remain attached to it), the plethora of throats that are slit early on in the great “clown with a machete” battle scene, and quite a few humiliating moments involving a sub plot with the general we meet early on. In fact, the film tip-toes a line of gruesome-ness that may cause some to consider the movie as an exploitation film at times. In almost all of the violent scenes there is an extra subtle “little something” to make the scene a bit more intense. One such example of this is a great scene is where a person is being dragged across pavement by their hair. What makes this scene particularly better is the simple trail of blood being left behind. This element enables the audience to imagine themselves being dragged by the hair while the flesh of their knees is being scraped off. Small difference such as this is what makes the scenes of the film a little more gut wrenching to watch.
Because of the varying aspects of The Last Circus, the film is hard to nail down to one genre. In fact I have seen it listed as Horror, War, Thriller, and even Comedy in a select few places. Nevertheless, even though it is hard to make a clear distinction as to which the genre it fits in, The Last Circus is quite brilliant in almost all aspects of film making.
I think The Last Circus lives up to being a film that you will either thoroughly love or thoroughly hate, but I encourage you to take the chance, view the film, and decide for yourself. Javier is built up to be quite the tragic character- and he lives up to the role well. The story is very dark, but it has some humor sprinkled in to lighten the mood at just the right times. And, to cover all my bases and provide a fair warning- there is a bit of nudity (one particular scene featuring a man fleeing from authorities). Even though the film is not as fast paced as I would like to have seen, I will seek out more films from this director and its actors- which is something I rarely do.