Monday, October 31, 2022

Ten Days of Terror!: The Final Girls

Film: The Final Girls
Format: DVD from Marengo-Union Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

One thing that has become exceedingly popular in the horror genre is to present the audience with a meta-look at slashers or other subgenres. Scream wasn’t the first self-aware slasher, although it’s still absolutely one of the best, but there have been other horror films that attack not just the characters but the genre. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Shaun of the Dead, and The Cabin in the Woods all look at aspects of the genre and, while presenting an actual horror movie, also play with many of the tropes of the genre. The Final Girls was probably inevitable.

We’re initially introduced to Max (Taissa Farmiga) and her mom Amanda (Malin Ackerman) as Amanda auditions for an acting job. We learn that Amanda feels typecast since she appeared as a victim in a classic slasher called Camp Bloodbath, which is clearly an in-film version of Friday the 13th (at least for the uninitiated. It’s actually a lot closer in ways to The Burning). Shortly after this introduction, Max and Amanda are in a serious car accident and Amanda is killed.

We doodley-doo three years into the future exactly, the three-year anniversary of Amanda’s death. Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), the brother of Max’s best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat) is a huge fan of the Camp Bloodbath series and convinces Max to show up at a festival for the movies. Max is reluctant, but eventually she agrees. A series of events at the showing results in a fire. Max leads Duncan, Gertie, ex-best friend Vicki (Nina Dobrev)—who is also the ex of her current boyfriend, and that boyfriend Chris (Alexander Ludwig) out by cutting through the screen with a prop machete. And, rather than finding the back of the theater, they wind up inside the movie.

And that’s essentially the plot. We have a group of five outsiders who appear in the movie, which appears to be on a loop until they actually go through the motions and deal with the killer, this world’s version of Jason Voorhees, known as Billy Murphy (Daniel Norris). Billy will certainly be able to handle the additional victims, but this does mean that if any of the real-world people want to survive, they’re going to have to play by the rules of the horror movie universe. This means no sex, nothing that approaches sex, and that only a virgin will be able to kill Billy, and only with his own machete, and only when he has killed off everyone else. And, since Amanda (after a fashion) exists in this movie world, it’s also an opportunity for Max to spend time with her mother, or at least someone who looks like her. It’s also worth noting that Billy’s killer mask is made to look like a tiki statue, and it’s one of the great slasher killer masks going.

The Final Girls naturally plays with all of the tropes of the genre. The characters in the movie are exactly what they are depicted to be—horny teenagers who don’t seem to have any reality beyond their two-dimensional existence. Beyond Amanda’s character Nancy (who is naturally also played by Malin Ackerman), who in the film loses her virginity and then dies, we’ll have constantly horny Kurt (Adam Devine), token Black character Blake (Tory N. Thompson), classic slasher movie slutty girl Tina (Angela Trimbur), and original movie final girl Paula (Chloe Bridges).

What follows, of course, is a lot of meta, which is what we are here for. The characters are going to plot to try to save themselves, and all of this will go wrong in interesting ways because Camp Bloodbath operates under slasher movie rules—everyone trying to save themselves is going to be unable to do so, and plans to get Billy’s machete from him will always fail until we are down to the final girl. We’re also going to get moments like, for instance, watching the credits roll of the internal movie while the characters are still on screen. Despite their best attempts, the real-world characters try to leave and get pulled back in without the movie characters noticing.

The Final Girls is fun. It’s also surprisingly not bloody. It plays with the tropes of slashers without really going all-in on the blood and gore. In that respect, it’s a very tame slasher, since most of the violence (although not all of it) is just off camera or implied. Everyone making this film is having a really good time doing it, and that’s evident in the performances. This is good parody—it’s smart because it plays with these ideas well and does a few things that similar films haven’t done.

If there’s a downside, it’s that it would be easy for this subgenre, the meta-horror, to be easily overdone. We’re not there yet, but we could be soon enough. On a completely separate note, Taissa Farmiga looks almost exactly like one of my daughter’s friends, so it was very strange to see someone who looks like someone I know being chased by a masked dude with a machete.

Why to watch The Final Girls: A very smart meta-look at the slasher genre.
Why not to watch: How many meta-slashers do we need?


  1. I actually liked this film as I thought it was a unique take on the final girl concept but also have some wit into it.

    1. I loved it. I'd love to see more movies that approach horror themes like this one does. It's clever without being smug.