The Final Girls – Film Review

The Final Girls finale lightning

Amazing Technicolor Battlefield, indeed.

I promised I’d post my review of The Final Girls back in my review for Scream Queens’ episode titled The Final Girls.

And, like I said then, this makes Scream Queens look like the utter jizz fart it is.

But is that much of an accomplishment. I mean, embarrassing Scream Queens is really easy.

TL;DR The Final Girls is no Scream, owing to its neutered violence and sometimes laborious early parts, but it excels in the most unexpected way: its emotion. This is more than just another meta snark snipe at slasher movies. It’s a touching tale of a daughter’s love for her lost mother, and trying to accept reality. And wow, what a finale. 3 out of 5 stars.

Horror movies really need to up the fog machine use. Whatever happened to that?

The plot follows Taissa Farmiga, the daughter of Malin Akerman, an actress whose only well-known role was as a fodder victim in a cheesy 80s slasher movie. Three years after Malin’s death in a car accident, Taissa is convinced by her friends Alia Shawkat, Alexander Ludwig, and Thomas Middleditch, to attend a screening of Malin’s slasher movie, Camp Bloodbath. There they meet frenemy Nina Dobrev, and when a fire breaks out in the theatre, our troupe flees through the movie screen and finds themselves trapped within Camp Bloodbath. Their mission is to find a way to use the trope-y world to their advantage and find a way home, but things get complicated with Taissa as she struggles to treat her mum’s character as just a facet of the movie, and not her actual mum. Plans eventually go awry, the film plot’s actual final girl ends up dead, and it’s up to Taissa to take up her role and defeat Jason Voorhees knock-off, Billy. A soaring finale sees Malin, having learned the truth about who she is to Taissa, sacrificing herself so Taissa can be the sole remaining virgin, gaining the superpowers to defeat Billy, and making it to the ending credits (with love interest Alexander by her side, natch). A cute twist ending reveals all Taissa’s real world friends have mysteriously survived and ended up at a hospital, which is the opening scene to the movie’s sequel, Camp Bloodbath 2: Cruel Summer.

Sadly, I think a sequel to The Final Girls is less definite.

With the kind of praising tone I’ve taken so far, you might be wondering why The Final Girls didn’t qualify for an It’s Not Shit. And to be fair, most of The Final Girls isn’t shit.

But the problem is that, again, despite that rousing finale, The Final Girls is content to rest on being cute. Rather than being truly impressive.

It’s a shame.

 

Why I hate this movie:

Its major deficiency is its lack of violence. In Australia, this is only rated M, which is not a restricted rating (I think PG-13 is the American equivalent). A movie that invokes 80s slashers can’t be this bloodless. Friday the 13th, which it most closely resembles, isn’t enduring because its story is so top notch. It’s because Kevin Bacon got an arrow through the neck. Or that wheelchair guy in the second one getting nearly bisected. Trashy 80s slashers had violent deaths as their selling point. It’s disappointing that a movie concerned with revering them would leave that out.

I have read that the lack of violence was studio-mandated, but that doesn’t change the fact. Such a shame.

The Final Girls also has a bit of an identity crisis. While it tries to be a meta parody, it also wants to be a heartfelt mother/daughter story, too. The emotional side eventually wins out, leaving the comedy and meta stuff gasping for air.

The characters other than Taissa and Malin therefore get shafted. Nina, Alia, Thomas, and Alexander don’t evolve beyond their one-note personalities. Nina, the mean girl, gets an obligatory tiny turnaround when she realises she needs to stop being a bitch, but almost everyone is killed off without having meant enough to be impactful.

Except Alexander, who is arguably treated worse. He’s just a piece of man meat for Taissa to fawn over. And given that her relationship with Malin is already emotional, and much more in focus, he doesn’t serve any purpose.

Up until the gang sets their plan to trap Billy in motion, things are pretty dull. The deaths, again owing to the neutered rating, aren’t much to look at.

Oh, and upon first entering the movie, the gang initially ignores the Camp Bloodbath characters and wait around in the woods. Ninety-two minutes later, the movie evidently loops and begins again. Which means the original events would have run their course, with original final girl Paula killing Billy and getting to the credits. So how come when the gang gets involved and does the same thing does the movie not loop? Admittedly a minor quibble, but that’s the danger of meta.

 

But it’s not all bad:

When The Final Girls does use meta properly, it really nails it. One thing I’ve never seen before was the use of flashbacks. When a flashback occurs, the world kind of melts around our real world characters and they enter the black and white landscape of the flashback. Once it’s ended, they return to the present portion of Camp Bloodbath.

This is recalled in incredible fashion during a later chase scene (and holy shit, a fucking chase scene. Thank God). Taissa, Malin, and Alexander are trying to flee from Billy, and become cornered. Taissa and Alexander instruct Malin to say the dialogue from earlier that triggers the flashback, and sure enough, they’re able to temporarily escape Billy in the flashback. That really made me take notice. Magical.

The “final girl” thing, unlike in the Scream Queens iteration, actually matters, too. Only the final girl is able to kill Billy. The climax of the finale involves Malin and Taissa, the only remaining virgins and therefore both candidates for replacing a killed Paula as the final girl, having to decide how to get those powers. Malin has come to accept that she can’t leave the movie world and have a future, and volunteers to allow herself to be killed by Billy so that Taissa will be strong enough to defeat him and save herself (and Alexander).

This leads to the movie’s best scene, as a tearful Malin ventures out into the fog-swept and technicolor lighting-blazed field and does a strip tease, which is a foolproof method of summoning Billy. All set to Bette Davis Eyes, as a callback to a song Taissa’s real mother liked. It transcends the goofiness and awkwardness of a mother doing a strip tease in front of her daughter and actually got me a little misty-eyed. I’m happy to admit that.

Things get even cooler when, with Malin dead, Taissa is immediately imbued with the power of a final girl and marches out to duel Billy on the battefield. She can jump and flip and dodge and lunge. It’s honestly epic.

The score is very 80s slasher inspired. And the use of fog machines and strobe lights and obvious sets gives the entire production an authenticity to the style that I relished. I think we can all agree that we’re sick of the grimy set work the torture porn craze dumped on us. Colour is back, bitches.

Sidney from Pretty Little Liars plays Paula, who dies hilariously in a car crash trying to escape the camp when the gang tells everyone that they’re in danger.

Tina, the skanky girl from the movie that originally dies after summoning Billy with a strip tease, has to be physically restrained to prevent her from strip teasing. And then they wonderfully end up letting her loose to bring in Billy for the death trap they’ve set for him. It’s to Cherry Pie, obviously.

The casting is brilliant.

A black guy and a slut are the first victims. Love it.

Oh, and if the sequel does get made, I’d expect they’d let loose with the violence. Because that’s what slasher sequels are for.

 

Verdict:

I expected to get a fabulously-cast meta slasher movie in the vein of the eternal Scream, but was underwhelmed. But what I didn’t ask for, and what The Final Girls absolutely delivered on, was a delicious surprise: a heartfelt tale of daughterly love, packaged in a cut-rating Friday the 13th parody. One day soon, the Farmigas will rule the horror world. 3 out of 5 stars.

The Final Girls Taissa Farmiga finale

Just stay away from Ryan Murphy, okay?

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About ijusthateeverything

Sincerity is death.

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