The Final Girls (2015)

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“You wouldn’t catch me dead in a movie.”

If The Final Girls proves anything, it’s that movies can be routine while also surprising. Dumb and smart, plain and beautiful. Sometimes the line between the contrasting ideas is a thin one. Most of us have seen slasher flicks and all of us have seen comedies. This is a mashup of the two, and another step forward in the creativity still yet to be found in this sparingly tapped subgenre. The latest entry is not a terrifying film, nor does it want to be one. It is, however, a very funny picture, precisely because that is its ambition. The film has cleverness to spare in its ingeniously meta world filled by the typically brainless young adults. Every now and then you expect a movie to be mundane and leave it shocked by the level of intelligence. The Final Girls is that kind of movie.

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While definitely heavier on comedy than horror, The Final Girls is dramatically satisfying as well. For whatever reason, and there has to be one, American cinema, and in some spurts in the foreign landscape, films have placed a noticeable emphasis on the process of letting go. That’s where the emotion in this movie lies. This horror comedy is as much a well-rounded drama as it is an homage to slasher flicks of the past, utilizing a balance rarely found in these types of hybrids. Not many movies openly condone and invite us to have fun while simultaneously engaging genuine reactions. More than anything, those attributes are what separate The Final Girls from the rest of the pack. You get the fun of a haunted house and the sentiment of a mother-daughter story all neatly wrapped together in this technicolored picnic.

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The leading lady here is Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga). Her mom Amanda (Malin Akerman) is a scream queen of the past, once starring in the cult classic Camp Bloodbath 20 years ago, now an aged actress failing to get work or recognition outside of that lone credit. It’s really not a spoiler to say that she passes away; I won’t say how, but it happens in the opening scene. The Final Girls masks a lot of its pieces with clichés, but this is primarily a movie about grieving, and Max does so by coming face to face with her mother again. While attending a screening of Camp Bloodbath, Max and a group friends are literally sucked into the movie, happening through logic that is never fully revealed but believable nonetheless. The Final Girls uses the high school stereotypes of then and now and blends them in ways that are telling and often hilarious. There’s the jock (Alexander Ludwig), the pretty drama queen (Nina Dobrev), the quirky best friend (Alia Shawkat), the geek (Thomas Middleditch), and the virgin in Max. They’re transported to the camp, interacting with the counselors and trying to escape the masked murderer Billy. It’s their only way out of the movie.

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The smart script by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller and the inventive directing of Todd Strauss-Schulson come together seamlessly on-screen. Just look at the gorgeous photo above. It’s pretty clear they were working with a shoestring budget, as do nearly all slasher flicks, but the production of the film manages to feel grand while also knowingly being cheap. So even though we know how the story is going to go, because it is tremendously made and has enough substance to keep us engaged you willingly tag along. That’s really enough of a testament to the film itself. The Final Girls is a genre movie without ever submitting to the contrivances or limiting the scope of its story, shrugging off the expectations of the audience, freeing itself up to be anything and everything that it wants to be. And damn near all of its ambitions are met.

“Why do we need a chainsaw for a slumber party?”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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