Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Writer: M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller
Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alla Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson, and Dan B. Norris
Synopsis: A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s maniacal killer.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
The term “Final Girl” is synonymous with horror fans. The term is connected to, well, the final girl in a horror film that is usually the virgin and or the last female character to stand up to the killer or monster at the end of the film. The term has changed and been used different through the years from Ellen Ripley in the Alien films and Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s Halloween. The concept even got turned on its head in the recent years like in Adam Wingard’s You’re Next – and even a little in his last film The Guest. Regardless, the concept has worked and is something that horror fans expect when they tune in. Once again, the concept is played around with in Todd Strauss- Schulson’s The Final Girls. However, The Final Girls is much more than a horror comedy, because at its heart lies a touching and beautiful story.
The Final Girls follows Max (Farmiga), the daughter of famous actress Amanda Cartwright (Akerman) who was never able to escape the image of playing the shy girl in a cult classic horror film, Camp Bloodbath. Three years after losing her mother in a car crash, Max is still having trouble moving on and it doesn’t help when her best friend Gertie’s (Shawkat) brother, Duncan (Middleditch) drags her to a screening of the film on the anniversary of her mother’s death. There they meet Chris (Ludwig) who has a crush on Max, and Chris’ ex-girlfriend and former friend of Max and Gertie, Vicki (Dobrev). While watching the film a fire breaks out in the theater and Max and her friends slash the screen so they can escape. However, they somehow end up in the actual film of Camp Bloodbath. There they meet the characters, including Max’s mother’s character Amanda, but also the killer of the film Billy Murphy. The group then tries to find a way out, but Max also has a chance to be with her mother, despite it being her character, one last time.
I didn’t know what to expect from The Finals Girls, but I was pleasantly, and thankfully, surprised by how great the film turned out. Strauss-Schulson could have gone the full campy approach, and while the film is campy at times, it is done on purpose to make fun of the campiness of the slasher horror films from the 80s. Instead he takes the very meta approach with essentially bringing to life some people’s dream of being in a horror film. The way that the characters eventually find out they are in the horror film and what they have to do to get back home is both rather clever and funny and effective.
The characters even have the familiar stereotypes – Max is the virgin, Chris is the jock and has a crush on Max, Gertie is the best friend, Vicki is the mean girl, and Duncan is the movie greek. However, the cast manages to bring something more to each character. Sure their stereotypes, but they bring just a little more to their characters to make them more well-rounded and bring some humanity to them so we actually feel and root for these characters and not want them to die. It was odd to watch a horror film and root for people to live instead of dying. Well, most of them anyway. The film characters always stay in the campy-slasher film characteristics and are pushed to the max, and in that case they are very stark comparisons between the two. Adam DeVine’s Kurt is the horndog and jerk of the group that wants to sleep with all the women, and has some great one-liners. Angela Trimbur’s Tina is the loose camp counselor that has one of the biggest highlights of the film that I won’t spoil for you. Tory N. Thompson’s Blake is the hippy-like character, while Chloe Bridges’ Paula is the film within the film’s “final girl” and is the rock-like girl.
The only real balance between the two set of characters is Akerman’s film with the film character of Nancy. She’s playing the part of her character, but, unlike the camp counselors, she is more fleshed out and is genuine with her emotions and feelings. This also makes her relationship with Max extremely more genuine and feels real. The movie might be billed as a horror comedy, but for me, The Finals Girls is built around the relationship between Max and Nancy and short relationship between Max and her mother Amanda that we see at the beginning of the film. This is certainly the heart of the film and I think this, besides the fun horror comedy parts, is why I loved The Final Girls as much as I did. Farmiga and Akerman have tremendous chemistry and every time they are onscreen together I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s also these scenes that remind us this is Max’s first and second chance to be around her mother again, even though it’s not really her mother. It’s both sad and touching to watch those scenes and Farmiga was able to really make us feel her emotions while in those scenes, especially their first and last scenes together.
The other thing that surprised me and highly enjoyed is the visuals. The Finals Girls is filled with not just throwback visuals to slasher films, but also vibrant and colorful backdrops. One of them is definitely near the end when our killer Billy Murphy comes through a fog, and when Nancy and Max begin to open up about their future. Finally, there is a pretty great 360-degree rotating shot that brings in a new feature to the group experience in Camp Bloodbath.
All in all, The Final Girls is much more than a horror comedy, it is also a touching film about loss, acceptance, and moving on. Don’t be fooled though, the film is highly entertaining and fresh in its own way. The clichés, tropes and stereotypes of classic campy slasher films of old, are welcomed and don’t take away from the film at all and actually add to the film. Do yourself a favor and check out The Final Girls.
The Final Girls
5 out of 5