The Final Girls Movie Review
Written by Becky Roberts
Released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Written by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller
2015, 88 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 12th October 2015
Taissa Farmiga as Max Cartwright
Malin Akerman as Nancy / Amanda Cartwright
Alexander Ludwig as Chris Briggs
Nina Dobrev as Vicki Summers
Alia Shawkat as Gertie Michaels
Thomas Middleditch as Duncan
If you haven’t heard of The Final Girls, the title may conjure images of some feminist-edged revenge film helmed by a blonde kick-ass protagonist. If you have, chances are you’ll know it was one of the most talked-about horror films on last year’s festival circuit. And nothing like the former at all (although Final Girl, another 2015 title, kind of is).
It is, in fact, a meta horror comedy. No, the approach is hardly new to the genre – we’ve had Cabin in the Woods, Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Shaun of the Dead, the entire Scream franchise... – but director Todd Strauss-Schulson has a new one for slasher fans. And it’s well worth the ballyhoo.
Three years to the day after Max (Taissa Formiga) loses her mum (Makin Ackerman) in a fatal car crash, she is roped into attending a special screening of the famous cult classic ‘80s slasher Camp Bloodbath that helped launched her mother’s ‘scream queen’ acting career. But when a fire is triggered in the cinema, so is an alternate reality, as Max and her close friends find themselves transported into the movie itself with only one way out: to survive it. Or rather to survive – you guessed it – the film's urban legend serial killer.
The timeframes and references are cleverly worked, but unlike fellow pastiches (ahem, Cabin in the Woods) it doesn’t feel as though it’s trying too hard to a) tick off every last cliché and b) appeal strictly to horror aficionados. You don’t need to have every version of Friday the 13th on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray to embrace the satirical subtext of one of horror’s best-loved formula – although it would help to be familiar with it, and indeed more subtle hints to the sub-genre (i.e nods to The Burning) will get buffs watching along with a scorecard.
Yes, this is a comedy, and on that note you can mentally put your hands together for the screenplay as it contrasts the ‘today’ teenagers with the stereotypical characters in the 80s slashers we all know and love to hate. The interaction is sometimes hysterical and to boot there’s some wonderfully intentional hammy acting by Adam Devine (Pitch Perfect) as ‘the jock’ and Angela Timbur (Halloween II) as ‘the slut’.
Authenticity’s in the bag too, the score from Gregory James Jenkins basking in analogue Carpenter-esque synths, with an appreciatively fresh electronic vibe, in between pop bangers from the decade; I mean, what’s an homage to 80’s horror without Banarama’s Cruel Summer and Toni Basil’s Mickey?
But tonally it throws up some surprises, balancing wickedly dark humour and amusing tacky scares with a few tugs on the heartstrings to earn its emotional coup – we’re talking hanky-grabbing stuff, as friends mend rocky relationships and sacrifices are made to re-work the script and determine the ‘Final Girl’ to defeat the killer. The real eye-wipe moments, though, revolve around Max facing her mum’s character Nancy. Horror comedies rarely strive for such sentiment, and the potency in which is delivers is satisfying.
Like the best karaoke catalogue in town, The Final Girls has a bit of everything, and that’s wrapped, bound and decorated within a slick, streamlined narrative that doesn’t faff around at the start (we get to know all we need of the main group within fifteen minutes) or dillydally in the middle (murders, or at least attempted ones, are quickly fired), ending satisfyingly bittersweet, if perhaps a little predictably.
Hats off to Strauss-Schulson. The Final Girls is a well-worked parody to the sub genre’s tropes and its archetypal heroine with plenty for slasher fans to sink their teeth into, making it one of the best meta horrors since Rubber.
Fancy it on the big screen? Film4 are running a parody-heavy double-bill screening of The Final Girls and the beloved sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest at Somerset House, London on Saturday 13th August. Buy tickets here: https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/film/film4-summer-screen-2016