A ‘B’ horror movie skewering ‘B’ horror movies: this approach could become gracelessly blundering in a hurry if it didn’t somehow work. Schlock wrapped in schlock, Todd Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls approaches trashy horror from an earnest, fan-centric point of view in order to highlight quirky faults alongside brilliant glimpses of auteurist talent. Through dialogue that embraces the off-the-cuff one-liner while offering pointedly funny quips of its own, the film plays to the strengths of the boisterous cast.
Taking her talents from American Horror Story to become a big screen “slasher,” Taissa Farmiga plays Max Cartwright, the grieving daughter of a cult-film icon (Malin Akerman), who tragically passes away in the opening scene. Three years later, her rigidly-structured group of oddball friends (a strict set of standards set by the horror movie gods) are able to convince Max to see her mother’s claim to fame on the anniversary of her death. A double-billed night of campy gore and sex finds Max at a packed theatre with her crew: best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), horror-geek Duncan (a hilarious Thomas Middleditch fulfilling his “awkward nerd” duties to perfection), jock/love interest Chris (Alexander Ludwig) and spoiled “hot” girl Vicki (Nina Dobrev). Each is completely unprepared to sit with their friend as she watches her dead mother, yet they all happily play along. When a blunt-sparked, alcohol-fueled fire breaks out in the theater, Max and her friends slice open the still-lit screen and jump through into the abyss. Discovering they have somehow managed to enter the brightly-lit 1980s summer camp slasher, the team becomes trapped within the confines of the tightly-scheduled film and have no choice but to play along.
Although slightly uneven in its execution, The Final Girls’ unique premise contrasts the old with the new, clearly illustrating how far these films have come (and how far they still have to go). Although the modern characters are more politically correct than their fictional counterparts, they are still anchored to very simple motives. Chris, the mild-mannered love interest, is little more than a modern analogue for Adam DeVine’s unstoppably-salacious Kurt — their female-based goals carrying equally jocular weight. The tough, “just one of the guys” Paula (Chloe Bridges) has evolved little in 30 years, becoming the sharp-tongued Gertie, just as the misogynistically-conceived “dumb slut” Tina (Angela Trimbur) and the stuck up Vicki are uniformly annoying and one-dimensional. The token person of color, Blake (a “new waved” Tory N. Thompson), has no modern counterpart, as one is apparently enough. (Or, perhaps more cleverly, he is a subtle commentary on modern cinematic whitewashing.) The only impermissible discrepancy is the story between Farmiga and Akerman. Far too heartfelt and completely unnecessary for narrative progression, the mother/daughter relationship only clouds the simple beauty of the satire.
Taking cues from Wes Craven’s Scream franchise as well as Drew Goddard’s more recent meta-horror Cabin in the Woods, The Final Girls expands on the blatant illustration of genre tropes to include the inescapability of the destiny-bound characters and the generally awful dialogue in low-budget exploitation films. Playing with the surreal nature of in-film flashbacks, the physicality of title cards and the depths to which character motives are ingrained, Strauss-Schulson and writers M.A. Fortin/Joshua John Miller display their love for the genre while creating a literal interpretation of being trapped inside a film.
A surprisingly funny and sharp-witted caricature of mass-produced horror, The Final Girls is the product of cult film iconography and our culture’s obsession with the ironically good. A love letter to all the films that have reached the peaks of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Troll 2 and The Room, Strauss-Schulson’s sense of fun and fandom are unwittingly contagious. Now excuse me, while I throw toast, popcorn and spoons at my television.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of London, England. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.