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.
My Take – Often the combination of horror & comedy can lead to a disaster, but without a doubt, if done right the film could turn into a major success. This comic call out on the ‘Friday the 13th’ series is one such film. This film could unjustly be compared to other films like “Scream” and “The Cabin in the Woods,” but luckily this film is something of a beautiful hybrid that stands on its own. This film takes the creatively wonderful cleverness of “The Cabin in the Woods” and combines it with the meta-horror feel of “Scream,” but adds much more emotion to the actual story than either of those two films. This film has characters that are likable and that you root for, unlike attractive blood bags that are in so many other horror films. The film even goes so far as to include the characters in the visual effects of the film, living them in real time, making the film even more fun. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson has made something genuine and special here, a horror comedy that actually manages to execute both of those things with skill, finesse, and a clear and genuine affection for the genre. The film starts with a genuine affection for the slasher genre, including a fake trailer for Camp Blood Bath that recalls the days of VHS video rentals. One of the characters is an uber-fan of the genre, effectively conveying the adoration that horror hounds have for the rules (and cliches) of their chosen genre. While Strauss-Schulson can clearly count Edgar Wright among his many, many influences (the editing style is a spot-on homage, to put it generously), the film manages to be utterly original in its knowing rip-off artistry. Fans of the Friday the 13th series will find plenty to love here as the film gleefully pokes fun at genre tropes, and much of the fun comes from the fact that Max and her friends aren’t just living in the world of the film – they’re living in the actual film, complete with voice overs, on screen credits, and flashbacks. There are so many hilarious moments that the film practically begs for repeated viewings, as audiences are bound to be laughing so hard that they’ll miss some of the rapid-fire humor.
The story follows Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga) who is struggling after the tragic death of her mother, 80s slasher flick icon Amanda Cartwright (Malin Akerman). In the ‘80s, Max’s mother Nancy starred in ‘Camp Bloodbath’, a summer camp slasher flick that’s since garnered a cult following for its hilarious overacting, paper-thin writing, and innovative kills. But for Max, Camp Bloodbath isn’t just a bad horror movie that all her friends enjoy. It’s a painful reminder that her mother is no longer with her, and she can’t help but avert her eyes every time the young, nubile Nancy (in the movie) meets her bloody end for having dared to have sex in an ‘80s horror movie. One night, Max agrees to join her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat) and Gertie’s horror geek stepbrother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch) at a local double feature of Camp Bloodbath and its sequel. She goes because she’s begged and because the sensitive, handsome Chris (Alexander Ludwig) is going. Sure, Chris’ obnoxious ex Vicki (Nina Dobrev) tags along, but it’s all innocuous enough until a freak accident leads to the theater catching fire. In a panic, Max leads her friends through the screen in an attempt to find an escape route, only to discover that they’ve literally entered Camp Bloodbath (the movie). Upon reaching, they’re forced to abide by the rules of the movie’s narrative in an attempt to survive. Of course, everyone knows that anyone who has sex in an 80s horror film is bound to be butchered shortly after, so Max finds herself in the awkward position of trying to convince her mother’s character not to sleep with the cocky, swaggering Kurt (Adam Devine), whose dialogue is almost entirely made up of sexual innuendos. Meanwhile, the attractive but vapid Tina (Angela Trimbur) is constantly trying to disrobe, which is a big no-no in this film, as its call out for the masked killer and his machete. They must try to not only return to the real world, but also survive the movie before being hacked to pieces by little Billy Murphy (the masked killer). Inside the movie (within the movie) we meet those lovable, cliched characters that most of us are familiar with, the virgin (aka the final girl), the quiet shy girl (aka the cute girl who sadly doesn’t survive), the sexy party girl (aka you have zero chance of surviving), the jock (aka the sexual deviant), the wannabe hero (aka you aren’t the real hero so you’re gonna die), and a few more body count extras. From there the film functions as both parody and deconstruction, lovingly nicking the campy tropes of the subgenre while messing around with the infinite loop that Camp Bloodbath creates around Max. The movie for the most part is very funny, especially early on in the movie when we first meet the original characters in the movie. Everyone is so over the top when we first meet them that it’s hard not to have a smile on your face at anytime they are speaking. Every conversation leads back to some sort of sexual innuendo and it’s great. But then there are other times when we get some one on one time between a mother and her daughter and the movie is surprisingly touching and emotional during those moments.
It’s this aspect of the movie that gives the movie a pulse, you care about these characters (even if the movie isn’t as dark and daunting as it seems to be). As part of the whole meta construct of the film, there are a number of jokes that play off the window dressing we’ve come to expect in movies. Some of the movie-within-a-movie characters are silly, but the likable “real life” characters make up for it; naive comments are trumped by more understanding ones. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) has fun staging and re-imagining horror movie moments, including flashbacks (with raining black-and-white goop washing away the color) and onscreen titles. Yet none of it is condescending. It stays true to the people who love those kind of movies especially a great sequence using slow-motion! But that’s not to say the movie is perfect, there are times when I found myself disappointed with the script and the direction the movie was taking. It’s not that it was terrible, but there was so much room for a movie like this that I wish it had thrown in a few more ideas. After all the movie is barely 90 minutes long and I feel the majority of people wouldn’t mind sticking around a bit longer to see some other ideas flourish. The cast deserves credit for making it so likable as well. Our main group – Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story), Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries), Alia Shawkat and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley), all do great work. Though, for comedic timing’s sake, Shawkat and Middleditch provide the most laughs of the main group, unsurprisingly. Though, much like many other mainstream films today, Adam Devine (The Modern Family, Pitch Perfect 2), who plays Kurt, the hyper-sexual jock, steals the show, offering up the most laughs of any character in the film and completely owning each scene he’s in. The emotion of the film is picked up mostly between Taisa and Malin Akerman, the shy girl at camp, played in the real world by Max’s dead mother. Max is now conflicted as how to keep her mother alive through Nancy, even though it’s not technically her real mother. These scenes are absolutely heartbreaking, with Farmiga and Akerman doing great work with each other in these scenes. On the whole, ‘The Final Girls’ is a brilliant, hysterically funny & immensely fun take on the slasher subgenre that finds a great balance between being a spoof of the genre & a horror film in general. I think its pretty clear that I loved The Final Girls! From the opening frame to the final credits blooper, I was completely delighted as a slasher fan and a comedy fan alike. The film not only is a hoot to watch, its surprisingly engaging in the emotional sense, with refreshingly likable characters that are filled out nicely by familiar faces. The ending of “The Final Girls” leaves us in the midst of a possible sequel, which typically, is a somewhat annoying trope to leave a film with, but in a film like “The Final Girls,” I want to see more as soon as possible!
Director – Todd Strauss-Schulson
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 88 minutes