The Final Girls, 2015.
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson
Starring Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alia Shawkat, Alexander Ludwig, Thomas Middleditch, Nina Dobrev, Adam DeVine, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson, and Angela Trimbur.
A high school student is grieving the loss of her mother. She soon finds herself and her friends transported into the cult slasher film that starred her mother Camp Bloodbath. To survive they must follow and understand the 80s slasher tropes.
In a blog for Film 4 director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas 3D) mentions the passing of his father and the importance the arrival of The Final Girls script was. As the blog goes on to recall his cinephilic childhood of three films a day, one comes to understand that many of those intense memories transcend onto the screen. The underpinning theme of parental loss is emotionally charged and is of much dramatic weight. In parallel is the well-advertised story of a group of teenagers transporting into the cinematic realm that comes to foreground much of director’s cinephilic dispositions.
It’s been three years since Max (Taissa Farmiga) lost her mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) in a horrific – and visually shocking – car accident and Max still misses her dearly. Horror fanatic Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), step-brother to Max’s best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat) is showing a double-bill of Camp Bloodbath and its sequel Camp Bloodbath 2: Cruel Summer at his independent cinema. Given that Max is the lead actress’s daughter, he desperately wants her to attend the screening. Reluctantly, she agrees, and there she meets her high-school crush Chris (Alexander Ludwig). In a most improbable catastrophe the trio, along with Chris’ ex-girlfriend Vicki (Nina Dobrev), are teleported, or transported, or thrown (you can pick whichever word you find most appropriate) into the realm of Camp Bloodbath.
Strauss-Schulson’s cinephilia is most pronounced in the film-within-the-film as he treads over all the classic horror tropes and the mechanics of a film. Duncan understands the 80s slasher motifs of the final girl, the masked killer, and the summer camp location that is reminiscent of postmodern characters from horror films like The Cabin in the Woods and Scream – that meta guy! Nothing Duncan says is particularly insightful, but the film seems to acknowledge this by veering into a neo-postmodern aesthetics. What Duncan says isn’t revelatory, but it’s making the world of the film act against their interests that is. The group seeps into a flashback that greatly affects their eyesight, e.g. they see the world in black & white. The Final Girls does push the meta comedy-cum-horror structure much farther than most films of its ilk.
Undoubtedly it is Adam Divine as Camp Bloodbath’s own misogynistic high-school jock Kurt that steals the show. His stupid double entendres and his one-track mind are a guilty pleasure to behold: Vicki’s putdown ‘hurray for feminism’ is vitriolic, albeit a downplayed one. This is all done with affection, highlighting such flaws without a contemporary smugness that hindsight can provide. Kurt, in other words, is a wonderful dumb character to laugh at.
This is not to shine away from the other characters in this film, like the overzealous, borderline-insane Tina (Angela Trimbur), with such infectious vigour, the reserved Blake (Tory N. Thompson), or the ditsy-shy-girl-with-a-clipboard Nancy (Malin Akerman). These other camp members all fill-in the stock roles prevalent in 80s slashers, and it’s their innocence when interacting with the world-weary millennial’s that make them endearing.
These comedic gems are undermined by the poorly timed, and often disjointing, emotionally charged moments between Max and Nancy. Nancy is the lead in Camp Bloodbath, but Max can only see her deceased mother. These moments are very heavy, and one can definitely see the director channelling such emotions. When these are placed next to Kurt’s boob jokes, or Tina’s air-headed antics, it can make such emotional shifts tiring, or at worse ineffective.
The Final Girls is an affectionate send-off to a genre we all love to mock, and to a flamboyant era we all love-to-hate.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★