Review: The Final Girls is comedy catnip for slasher fans
I finally caught up with The Final Girls on VOD last night and was very pleasantly surprised. I’d heard it described as “all very meta,” and that didn’t fill me with confidence. But after a shaky start that had me rolling my eyes at the on-the-noseness of it all, it quickly settled into an enjoyable meta-slasher romp that plays out like Friday the 13th meets Pleasantville. The Final Girls isn’t quite as clever—or original—in its deconstruction of genre tropes as Scream, the Skynet of self-aware slasher cinema, there’s still plenty to recommend it. In fact, it should be spoken about alongside The Cabin in the Woods.
Taissa Farmiga (star of American Horror Story and sister of Bates Motel star Vera Farmiga) plays Max, the still-grieving daughter of the late scream queen played by Malin Akerman, whose claim to fame was starring in the cult classic “Camp Bloodbath.” When a fire breaks out in the theatre during a special anniversary screening of the movie, Max and her horror-savvy pals escape into the screen and become trapped inside “Camp Bloodbath,” where they must use their knowledge of horror tropes to defeat its masked and machete-wielding maniac. It’s a brilliant high-concept premise that manages the neat trick of walking that silly string between clever and stupid. The Final Girls isn’t scary or menacing, nor does it try to be—the same could be said of a lot of straight slasher movies—but it takes full advantage of the usual slasher conventions, which are gleefully and inventively nailed (part of the teens’ plan involves the slutty girl flashing her breasts as bait to attract the killer, for example). Although it could have benefitted from an R rating to really give it that ’80s slasher verisimilitude.
Of course, if “teens outsmarting a masked psycho Last Action Hero-style” had been all The Final Girls had to offer it would have been a reasonably fun diversion with some mildly memorable humour. Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) is quite funny as the ultimate horror fanboy horror who actually enjoys being inside one of his favourite movies. But The Final Girls actually has something more heartfelt in mind, namely the reunion between Max and her late mother, or at least, the on-screen character played by her late mother who is doomed to die in “Camp Bloodbath” and has already died in real life (make sense?). Max is still coping with her death in a car crash, and now she must come to grips with the idea of losing her all over again at the sharp end of a machete. Ultimately, The Final Girls is about grief and loss and acceptance and moving on—as well slicing and dicing and sexy camp counsellor shenanigans.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) and screenwriters Mark Fortin and Joshua John Miller obviously have tremendous affection for the genre—and for their characters—and they bring a lot of heart to the proceedings. And Akerman, I must point out, does a solo dance that’s as endearing as Kate Hudson’s in Almost Famous (no joke).