“All the world’s indeed a stage, and we are merely players.”
Ever since the movies Halloween and Friday the 13th, the slasher film has been a staple of the horror genre. After it’s heyday in the 80’s, Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996 rejuvenated this style of film by having its characters aware of the various tropes that accompanied it. The Final Girls, available now on VOD and limited theatrical release, takes its title from the most common plot device of the slasher and breathes fresh life into it for a fun, bloody ride. (This film shouldn’t be confused with Final Girl, starring Abigail Breslin, which was released a couple of months ago, and really has nothing to do with the narrative thread of ‘the final girl’.)
First, for those who don’t know what ‘the final girl’ represents, in almost every slasher film, a masked killer slaughters a bunch of young people, usually ones who are sexually active, one by one, until the lone virginal, nice, innocent ‘final girl’ is left to survive and finish off the killer herself. Think Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, Heather Langenkamp in A Nightmare on Elm Street or Ashley Lawrence in Hellraiser. It’s interesting to note that for all the flack and negative press slasher films received for being misogynistic, from the likes of Siskel & Ebert and many others, the exact opposite is true of the genre. Sure, nubile, scantily-clad women are brutally slayed by a relentless killer, but then, so are the guys too. It is however, that ‘final girl’ who finds her inner strength and perseveres when all others can’t to make it to the end and not just survive, but put an end to the killer’s rampage as well. Young women can feel empowered by this show of strength and will to survive. Religious groups, who also found these types of films distasteful, should have noted that it was generally the one girl who refrained from sex who was spared from the killer’s blade, a not so subtle message they should have welcomed.
Anyway, enough with the history lesson – on to The Final Girls. Max (played by Taissa Farmiga of American Horror Story) reluctantly decides to attend the 3-year anniversary screening of the cult classic, “Camp Bloodbath,” which starred her late mother, Amanda (Malin Akerman, Watchmen). Max was especially close to her mom and it has been difficult for her to even look at pictures of her from her glory days as a Scream Queen, let alone watch her on film. When a fire breaks out during the screening, Max and her friends find themselves whisked into the actual movie itself. They ultimately must join forces with the cast from within the movie and find a way to survive and dispatch of the killer, and hopefully then get back to the real world, all the while aware of how the movie is supposed to unfold. Max also gets a second chance for a relationship with the mother she had lost, or rather, the character she once played. It’s one final girl in a movie with another final girl – who will make it to the end?
The film is a like a cross between Scream and Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo and is an absolute blast from the opening to the closing credits. The script by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller is witty and fun, with lines like, “I love a legend – Loch Ness, Bigfoot, Bon Jovi – all of them,” or Amanda telling her daughter, “If you ever become an actor, don’t get caught dead in a slasher flick.” (Miller’s father was Jason Miller of The Exorcist, by the way.) There are also plenty of clever touches, like the characters hearing the music from the movie right before someone is killed, or seeing themselves in black and white during a flashback. It’s all expertly crafted by director Todd Strauss-Schulson, whose use of vibrant colors looks amazing on the screen.
At the core of the film is the special bond shared by mother and daughter, and it’s this relationship, established at the beginning of the movie in the real world and carried over to the film within the film, that gives the story added resonance and depth. Taissa Farmiga is the perfect final girl, showing sorrow and sadness in those eyes of hers, while gathering the will to overcome the masked murderer. Malin Akerman is wonderful playing her actress/mom along with her character in the movie, expressing her hopes and dreams, while coming to terms with what’s real and what’s not. The rest of the cast is terrific too and should be recognizable to TV watchers – the lovely Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries), as the not entirely ‘mean girl’, Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley), as the over-excited film geek, and Adam DeVine, playing a character within the film very much like his one third of the hilarious Workaholics on Comedy Central. Also on hand are Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games), Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) and Chloe Bridges (The Carrie Diaries). It’s a great cast that doesn’t play its characters in stereotypical fashion.
The Final Girls is available now, on demand in various platforms, as well as select theaters, and makes for a fun, clever and visually striking film with a stellar cast that adds a brand new dimension to the beloved slasher flick. It’s a moving movie within a movie, and perfect for a popcorn-fueled night of laughs and thrills.
— review by Brian de Castro