Starring Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam Devine, Angela Trimbur. Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson. (2015, 91 min). SONY
In case you’re unfamiliar with horror tropes, the term ‘final girl’ refers to the last surviving character in a slasher film (especially those made in the 1980s) who battles the killer during the climax. She’s almost always a teenager and usually a virgin. Everyone else has already suffered a nasty demise after partying, getting naked and having sex.
Slasher movies have been a pretty easy target for satire over the years, to the point where pointing out the cliches has itself become somewhat cliched. Wes Craven’s Scream probably did it best, but there’s been some other good ones, such as the underappreciated mockmentary, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Then there’s the garbage parodies like Scary Movie or ’self-aware’ films like Hatchet and Muck, which purport to pay homage to the genre, when in reality they’re just hackneyed horror flicks themselves.
However, like The Cabin in the Woods, The Final Girls lets the viewer know right away it isn’t a flat-out parody nor a full-blown horror flick. Its brand of meta-horror acknowledges the tropes of 80s-era slasher films from a modern perspective, but still has its own tale to tell.
Taissa Farmiga plays Max, a teenager whose mother, former 80’s scream queen Amanda (Malin Akerman), recently died in a tragic accident. Max reluctantly attends of revival screening of her mom’s most famous film, Camp Bloodbath, with some of her friends. When a fire breaks out in the theater, they escape death but end up at the summer camp in the very film they’ve been watching. How they deal with characters created from a different era provides a lot of the humor, especially those whose purpose is to have sex before dying at the hands of the killer. Equally amusing are how these intentionally-shallow Camp Bloodbath characters react to the strangers who’ve popped up in their movie, intent on altering the plot in an attempt to return to their own time.
All the usual tropes are exploited, but with a level of affection & sophistication seldom seen in most modern parodies. Despite the Camp Bloodbath characters presented as walking cliches, we kind-of like them, especially when they learn they aren’t actually real people. Watching Max and her friends try and adapt to this archaic movie is amusing as well. They know the killer is near when they hear his theme music, and in the most ingenious scene, they are suddenly rendered in black-and-white during a flashback and forced to physically step around an onscreen title card.
But what ultimately makes The Final Girls unique is its surprising moments of poignancy. Despite all the clever scenes, slapstick humor and knowing dialogue, we have Max, who’s lonely and spends a great deal of time developing a loving, protective bond with her late mother’s Camp Bloodbath character. This sets up a surprisingly heartfelt and bittersweet final act which is totally unexpected. You might even get a bit teary-eyed near the end.
But even if you’re too cynical to become emotionally invested in its two main characters, The Final Girls has the potential to become a minor cult classic because of how well it plays around with slasher movie conventions. As meta-horror, it's not quite in the same league as Scream or The Cabin in the Woods, but for viewers well-versed in all things good-and-bad related to the slasher genre, The Final Girls is a must-see.