Review: The Final Girls
PLOT: A young woman is convinced to go to a double bill of an Eighties slasher film, one that featured her recently deceased mother. After a fire breaks out in the theatre, she and her friends discover they are living inside the iconic movie, and the memories of her mom are not the only thing she is running from.
REVIEW: There is little that is new when it comes to self-referential horror. For nearly every fright, you will find a laugh or a wink and a nod. Sometimes it can work marvelously well, but other times the humor outweighs the scares. THE FINAL GIRLS is certainly heavy on the laughs, but it has something that is rarely on display in this kind of genre mashup. What sets this feature apart from the others is its heart. Rarely have I sat through a scary movie and found myself actually getting a little heartbroken, but this flick certainly pulled that off. This movie within a movie is a wonderful example of how to tell a great story, and still pay homage to the features that terrified us when we were kids.
Taissa Farmiga is Max, a young woman who is still dealing with the tragic loss of her “scream queen” mother Nancy (Malin Akerman). Since her death, Max has been trying to keep her grades - as well as her life - together as best she can. When a double bill of “Camp Bloodbath” - the movie her mother played one of the victims in - comes to town, she reluctantly decides to go thanks to her horror loving pal Duncan (Thomas Middleditch). During the screening, there is an unexpected fire that sets the theatre in flames. Max quickly leads her friends to an escape, but it is not the way out she is hoping for. After everything goes dark, Max and her friends wake up inside Camp Bloodbath. And soon they realize that they are about to witness the slasher flick playing out around them. Cue the scary music.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson, along with screenwriters Joshua John Miller and M.A. Fortin, take a very goofy idea and give it life. We’ve all seen these horror tropes explored before, yet somehow they inject a freshness to it. From the literal feeling of running in slow-motion, to a physical transformation into a black and white flashback, the fun of it all is infectious. While much of that comes from the script, it also helps that the on-screen talent fully commits to the material. This is true for Farmiga and her friends, played by Middleditch, Alexander Ludwig, Alia Shawkat and Nina Dobrev. Yet it is the “camp counselors” played by Malin Akerman, Adam DeVine, Angela Trimbur and Tory N. Thompson who really have a blast with the ridiculousness of the sex-crazed teens they portray.
This is a terrific group of actors, but the heart and soul of it all lies with Farmiga and Akerman. Both as mother and daughter, and later on when Max befriends her mother’s character, there is wonderful chemistry going on. Thanks to these two incredibly talented actresses, it is impossible not to get involved. And as the body count rises, their developing friendship is thoughtful and heartfelt. Another surprise is the “slutty” Tina (likely a nod to Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET). Angela Trimbur relishes in the outrageousness of it all which comes to a climactic and wildly entertaining plan to lure the killer into a trap - if MTV Movie Awards still gives out a “Best Dance Sequence” award, she should win.
Another treat within THE FINAL GIRLS is how damn stylish it is. That final sequence when the “final girl” and that maniacal killer face off is absolutely beautifully shot. This is something you wouldn’t expect from a slasher/comedy. And aside from creating some truly impressive images on a low budget, the filmmaker also adds a ton of visual humor. The selfie with a killer bit may be a tad silly, but it works. Clearly Todd paid attention to the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise as he captures the essence of Jason Voorhees rather well. My only complaint is that the one thing missing from this PG-13 rated flick is what made FRIDAY THE 13th what it is. If you are looking for T & A with a healthy heaping of gore, you are going to be sorely disappointed.
THE FINAL GIRLS borrows from F13 and the myriad of meta horror flicks. Yet this loving tribute stands out thanks to the giant heart it wears on its sleeve. This might not have worked without the right cast, but thankfully both Malin Akerman and Taissa Farmiga make you feel all the right things at the right times. If you are a horror fan and you don’t mind the lack of blood and sex, you will have a big smile on your face throughout. Sure it can be ridiculous, but this modern comedic fright flick is wonderfully witty. With a great cast and a director with a love of horror, THE FINAL GIRLS is certainly one of the best genre scares - with laughs - you are likely to find this year.
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