the_final_girls_1Year: 2015
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Writer(s): M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 88 mins

Synopsis: A girl and her friends are transported into a film starring her deceased mother. Together, the group has to survive a creepy serial killer in order to find the way out. 

At one point or another, we’ve all wanted to live in one of our favorite horror films. It’s this premise that kickstarts The Final Girls‘ rip-roaring love letter to the slasher genre and delivers an instant classic in the making. Simultaneously riffing off of and subverting the subgenere’s most enduring tropes, director Todd Strauss-Schulson has created one of the most fun horror films of late, one that’s meant to be seen in a loud, rambunctious theatre of insatiable, tried and true fans. Just below the surface however, is also an endearing story about grief, love and loss that works surprisingly well and adds an unforeseen dimension, paying tribute to the classic heroines whose gender politics in the genre has always been tenuous at best. The Final Girls is the real deal – self-deprecating humor, an ensemble cast, hammy dialogue, a hilarious dance number, plenty of blood and finally, an emotionally satisfying subtext that transcends the genre.

On the third anniversary of her mother’s death, Max Cartwright is (Taissa Farmiga) is invited to a special screening of her mother’s film, Camp Bloodbath, an 80s slasher of which the late scream queen was never able to escape. Still grieving over her loss, Max reluctantly agrees after a bit of coercion, at best, hoping to see her mother in some capacity for one last time. During the screening however, a freak accident occurs in which Max and her friends are forced to physically enter into her mother’s film (I know, it’s a real mind bender). Reunited with the fictional character of her mother Amanda (Malin Akerman), Max and company navigate the film’s plot, goofy characters and a machete-wielding, Jason Voorhees-esque serial killer in order to find a way out.

As the film goes down a checklist of subverted tropes in smart and hilarious ways, the most impressive thing about it is its ability to balance a tone that feels both sincere and unabashedly absurd. Similar to how Cabin in the Woods dissected every horror film and unleashed a gauntlet to do better, this film is a clever meta deconstruction of teen slashers, but this time using its premise to tell a cathartic story about saying goodbye and being able to let go of a loved one. It’s an idea that resonates and unexpectedly gives weight to the deaths we see on scene – a miraculous feat for a genre in which death is usually meaningless. But on the fun side, the film never misses an opportunity to poke fun at the iconography of the genre, from the ridiculous death scenes, traps, gleefully obnoxious heavy metal and a lot of 80s humor done right. In the hands of anyone else, the film might’ve been a flat out mess, but under Strauss-Schulson’s confident direction, it’s something that every horror fan needs to see.

the_final_girls_2Another important asset of the film is its cast, who all get a moment to shine and are constructed from tried and true archetypes – the virgin, the shy girl, the mean girl, the best friend, the self aware horror nerd and the jock. True to form though, these characters are all given more substance than usually allowed, and in addition to being memorable for all the right reasons, anchor us to the film’s unusually bizarre premise. As focal points of the story, Taissa Farmiga’s Max and Malin Akerman’s Amanda/Nancy have the most fun subverting the archetype of the iconic final girl. Here however, Strauss-Schulson renders them as women who finally get to own up to their thematic legacy, breaking through a story in which they’re constantly being told what they can’t do, to break the odds and become heroines who are more complex than their classic counterparts. Much love and detail has gone into crafting their relationship, and its refreshing to see a film where women are standing up for each other. The rest of the cast is split into characters who are self aware and ones who don’t realize they’re living in a movie, and the story gets most of its laughs and clever plot beats from discerning and throwing the two disparate elements together. Adam DeVine and Angela Trimbur in particular as two horny camp counselors from inside the film, make the most of the story’s gleeful stereotypes get some of the film’s biggest laughs.

Given its subject matter, much can be said about the way the Strauss-Schulson and writers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller are able to pay tribute and celebrate the women who have long laid claim to the horror genre without being exploitive or getting lost in fan service. Taking away all the horror elements, there’s actually a sincere story underneath that pays off. Bottom line, films like The Final Girls are far and few in between, showing us where the genre has been and where it can go, while also delivering strong characters who divert the male gaze away from their bodies and into the heart that lies within, all while still delivering the necessary amount of blood and hijinks. Easily a must see that’ll only improve among multiple viewings!

SG