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Movie Review: The Final Girls

Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson Video on Demand DVD and Blu Ray on November 3, 2015

The Final Girls
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Video on Demand
DVD and Blu Ray on November 3, 2015

The Final Girl is the last one standing, particularly in 80s slasher films. All of her friends are dead or dying. She’s a virgin, she’s kept her shirt on, and she’s refrained from smoking the potgrass. She’s cool, but not too cool. She’s smart but is underestimated by her friends. And against overwhelming odds she takes out the killer, using his weapons against him. Covered in blood and exhausted, she limps away as the credits roll. And then usually dies in the sequel’s first act.

Think Laurie in Halloween. Or Nancy in Nightmare on Elm Street. Or Alice in Friday the 13th. Or Ginny from Friday the 13th Part 2. Ripley in Alien. Sally in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Sidney in Scream. Dana in Cabin in the Woods. Lori in Jason vs Freddy. Kirsty in Hellraiser. Mia in 2013’s Evil Dead. Ash in the original Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2.

The proto Final Girl is Lila Crane in Psycho, the last woman standing at the end, the only one brave enough to seek the truth of what is happening with Norman and his mother and the creepy house. A further refinement came in Black Christmas with Jess. But Jess doesn’t really fit the stereotype as she is pregnant and is considering an abortion at the beginning of the film. But she is the Final Girl, the last one standing, the woman who has unleashed her rage on the killer.

The Final Girl as she would become in the 80s - virginal, straight-ish, saying no to drugs - was very much a product of the Reagan era. The bizarre timing of a new brand of conservatism sweeping our culture at the same time as the horrible reality that, yes, sex could kill you set, the stage for a genre of slasher films to emerge. Slasher films where sex and drugs would lead directly to your painful and agonizing death. They would also lead to Kevin Bacon getting an arrow through his throat and Crispin Glover dancing and Johnny Depp exploding in a geyser of blood.

And in the last act the virgin, no matter how many times she’s been stabbed, no matter how much she’s been pummelled and terrorized and thrown through walls, will stand up and take on the unstoppable killer by herself.

And then Scream happened.

Sidney could be a mean girl, she drank beer, and enjoyed sex. She broke nearly every Final Girl cliché. Scream took every horror film convention, flipped it upside down and gave it a spanking. Characters held conversations about horror film rules. The film is so self-referential that, really, it should snap under the weight of its pretentiousness. The fact that it never breaks, that it holds together so well is a testament to the genius of Wes Craven. Damn, I love Scream.

The influence of Scream is all up in The Final Girls’ DNA. So is Cabin in the Woods, but I’m going to just assume whoever is reading this has never seen Cabin in the Woods. And if you really haven’t, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Check it out now. And that’s all I’m going to say about Cabin in the Woods.

So, yeah, Scream’s influence and The Final GirlsThe Final Girls wouldn’t exist without Scream. The humour, the knowledge of horror movie tropes, of slasher movie plotting, all the different threads holdingThe Final Girls together can, every one of them, be traced directly back to Scream.

The Final Girls stars Taissa Farmiga (sister of Vera Farmiga, star ofBates Motel which is an updated telling of Psycho – see how it all comes around?) as Max Cartwright. Her mother Amanda, played by Malin Akerman, was a 80s scream queen who at one point played Nancy in Camp Bloodbath. Three years after her mother’s death, Max is in the audience at a screening of Camp Bloodbath when a fire breaks out in the theatre and her and her friends escape but find themselves inside the movie, kinda like The Last Action Hero or Purple Rose of Cairo or Sherlock, Jr. Take whichever reference you’d like, I won’t judge.

The elevator pitch for this movie would be: people from now find themselves in a 1986 slasher film, interacting with the characters to try to defeat a machete-wielding villain. But there is so much more. Like, the characters from Camp Bloodbath speak in horribly written dialogue that could only be found in those micro-budget slasher flicks. And there is a lot of heart in this film, a full metric tonne of it.

Max tries to reconnect with her mother, not recognizing that Nancy is a character that was played by her mother and is not actually her mother. Yeah, it gets all meta. But it's so very, very touching and real and moving and never, ever feels manipulative.

I suspect a lot of the realness of the relationship between Nancy and Max comes from co-screenwriter Joshua John Miller. He’s the son of Jason Miller who played Father Karras in The Exorcist. Miller has spoken in interviews about watching The Exorcist repeatedly and seeing his father die repeatedly and the impact that had on him and it seems that those feelings are being worked out in The Final Girls.

The movie shows a real love for horror movie tropes, showcasing not just the 80s slasher setting and characters, but in the larger movie as well where we have the Final Girl, the Funny Friend, the Mean Girl, the Sensitive Jock, and the Geek Cinephile.

The performances are all fine, funny and touching and moving and real. But the comedy heavy hitter here has got to be Angela Trimbur as Tina, Camp Bloodbath’s Slutty Girl. She very nearly steals the film with every scene she’s in. And when our heroes duct tape oven mitts over her hands and put a life jacket on her so she’ll stop taking her clothes off and attracting the machete-wielding killer… Damn, she is just about snorting while laughing funny, just about pee your pants funny.

Where The Final Girls wins is as a smart comedy. Where The Final Girls fails is as a horror film. It’s not very scary, not very scary at all. And the gore and the nudity that one would expect from a 80s slasher setting are absent, removed for the PG-13 rating that American producers love, love, love. But it is funny, it is smart and it is very touching and it is worth finding.

Every few years, horror gets a reset. Fright Night, Scream, Cabin in the Woods. They all came and turned the genre around, making it fun again. I don’t know if The Final Girls will join that list, but it should get an A for effort.

I found it on video on demand and it is coming to DVD and Blu Ray on the 3rd of November. I recommend finding a copy however you find copies of movies and checking it out. Check out the trailer. It just might be the thing you’re looking for but didn’t know you were missing.