Last Girl Standing, 2015
Written and directed by Benjamin R. Moody.
Starring Akasha Villalobos, Danielle Evon Ploeger, Brian Villalobos, JD Carrera, Ryan Hamilton, Kelsey Pribilski, Laura Ray, Chris J. Knight.
She survived a brutal massacre, but lost her life. What happens to the final girl after the credits roll?
Ever since Laurie Strode first stabbed Michael Myers with a knitting needle in Halloween, the ‘Final Girl’ has become an integral component of the slasher genre. From Sidney Prescott to Ellen Ripley, final girls have consistently fought off murderous boogeymen, surviving against all odds thanks to their wits and ingenuity. What the movies fail to explore though is the far-reaching consequences of this trauma. Sure, surviving the massacre of everyone you know is sort of a happy ending, but how does an experience like this affect these women further down the line?
Opening where most horror films end, Last Girl Standing begins with a young girl called Camyrn (Akasha Villalobos) fighting for her life against a masked killer who has murdered all of her friends. Determined to avoid the same fate as his other victims, Camyrn manages to turn one of The Hunter’s traps against him, ending the serial killers reign of terror once and for all… or so we are led to believe.
Cut forward a few years later and Camyrn’s life is a hollow shell of what it used to be. With all of her friends now gone, Camyrn regularly suffers from nightmares that flash back to that fateful night. Surviving may be the goal of slasher movies, but the survivor’s guilt that follows is almost worse than the ordeal itself.
Villalobos is astonishing in the lead role; we feel Camyrn’s pain as visions of The Hunter begin to encroach on her life and we root for her when she begins to finally form genuine relationships once again. Whether the killer has genuinely returned or whether he’s simply a figment of Camyrn’s traumatised mind, we sympathise with Villalobos’s harrowed performance throughout.
The supporting cast are also far more rounded than the cardboard cut-outs you typically find in slasher movies, so we actually end up caring about these people beyond their immediate survival. Out of this group, Camyrn’s new friend Danielle (Danielle Evon Ploeger) and potential love interest Nick (Brian Villalobos, Akasha’s real-life husband)) are particularly convincing, to the point where their performances veer Last Girl Standing away from its slasher roots towards something more like a psychological drama with indie leanings.
Last Girl Standing is an extremely impressive calling card for Benjamin R. Moody, who makes his feature debut here as both writer and director. While the script transcends the typical trappings of the slasher genre, featuring realistic and often humorous dialogue that brings each character to life, Moody also makes equally smart decisions from a directorial standpoint.
The aptly named Moody regularly pays homage to other classics of the genre in his debut, including The Shining and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Last Girl Standing remains grounded in a real-world context throughout, making the entire scenario far more believable. The pulsing score is used sparingly, heightening the tension in pivotal scenes and practical effects are only used when necessary, most notably in a wince-inducing axe scene towards the end. Moody’s technique is a perfect example of how to utilise the restrictions of a cheap budget to enhance, rather than restrict the story being told.
This selective approach to storytelling is also reflected in the film’s script. Aside from the heavy exposition of the credits sequence, Last Girl Standing refuses to give easy answers to audiences raised on generic Hollywood slasher movies. The opening scene is disconcerting precisely because it throws us immediately into Camyrn’s struggle without explaining why she has to fight for her life and the question of her sanity in the aftermath of this attack is handled with delicate precision. It’s never made clear whether Camyrn is insane or whether the threat she faces is supernatural in nature, but Moody straddles this line carefully, never once forcing this issue to the forefront like countless other horrors.
For better or worse, all of this careful character building is ripped apart in the movies last act, which could be one of the most divisive finales filmed in recent years. To discuss the ending of Last Girl Standing in-depth would be a disservice to anyone who hasn’t yet seen the movie, but depending on your perspective, the final scenes could be seen as either a bold move towards psychological realism or a treacherous cop-out that defies the films internal logic with a cheap, last-minute twist. Either way, few horror movies can provoke such a visceral reaction in this way.
Judged solely as a horror movie, Last Girl Standing isn’t particularly scary, although it does possess a creepy antagonist and moments of nerve-racking tension. However, if you’re willing to look outside of the box, Moody’s deconstruction of the ‘Final Girl’ trope flips the conventions of the genre on its head in an engrossing, yet realistic way. Regardless of how you feel about the films ending, Last Girl Standing is one of the most fascinating and intelligent horror movies released in the past five years, rightly earning Moody’s debut a spot alongside more renowned fare such as It Follows and Goodnight Mommy.
Last Girl Standing is available to stream and watch on VOD from 29th February in the UK. For more information, visit the official Facebook account here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
David Opie – follow him on Twitter, add him on Facebook or email him at email@example.com