The 2015 film The Final Girls is a horror/comedy that embraces tropes of 80’s slasher flicks, with an original satirical twist. It begins by introducing us to a teenage girl named Max (Taissa Farmiga) who waits for her mother Amanda (Malin Ackerman) while she auditions for a role in a film. She returns and knows it didn’t go well because of a stigma from an 80’s slasher movie she starred in titled Camp Bloodbath that went on to become a cult classic – but overshadowing any other opportunities that she hoped could come her way. We instantly feel Amanda’s passion for acting and her desire to become a household name for her talent, while also establishing the tight bond between mother and daughter that seamlessly goes on to be the driving force of The Final Girls. When leaving the audition and blasting their favorite song, “Bette Davis Eyes” the joy is ripped away with a fatal car accident taking a mother from her daughter all too soon. The film immediately creates an emotional pull that tugs at the heartstrings before adeptly incorporating poignant moments of grief, humor, and self awareness from beginning to end.
Years later a disconnected Max is near dropping out of high school, and still deeply mourning the heavy loss she is struggling to cope with. A few of her friends and random connections convince Max to attend a double-feature screening of the movie her mother starred in, and it’s follow-up sequel, proving to be insanely popular with the niche crowd of horror lovers. An accidental alcohol spill and cigarette mishap creates a massive fire in the theatre early into the screening when Final Girls pays homage to the Woody Allen film The Purple Rose of Cairo with Max and her friends tearing through the screen to exit – but accidentally entering the film itself. Final Girls quickly becomes a meta take on the early slasher genre and embraces those qualities effortlessly.
There are scenes in the film that play up even the more subtle aspects of horror movies when a filtered flashback scene occurs, it doesn’t go unnoticed by the diversely interesting cast of characters. The movie within the movie, Camp Bloodbath, is virtually a retold Friday the 13th and pokes fun at the background noises as indication of the killer’s presence and uses slow motion scenes that are visually glorious and humorously addressed. The fact that the film can pull these different genre stylized elements into one film without going overboard is a testament to the creative direction captured by writers, M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller with director Todd Strauss-Schulson. There are other movies that are campy depictions of the horror genre, but The Final Girls encompasses the entirety of campy slasher films yet modernizes it enough to create a wider appeal – and it’s only strengthened by the concept of a “final girl” that has become a favorite attribute to the slasher genre.
The characters in The Final Girls are what makes the film as spectacular as it is with the typecast characters of the genre, mixed with the present day group who also happens to fill character clichés (and the film references it proudly.) Every one of them is given qualities to root for in the most outrageous scenarios. For example, the camp counselor Tina performs an epic striptease to bring out the killer and assist the merged group of eclectic misfits. The follow-up scene is filmed with a retro perspective and in one continuous take, which is another fun creative treat for film geeks that also pushes us towards the climax of the film. What I find to the most beautiful takeaway from The Final Girls is the compelling parent-child dynamic that spotlights the grief accompanied with losing a parent. When Max comes face to face with her mother’s character Nancy, she feels the need to save her life and hope to finally have her mother back. Seeing Max disregard the pre-written aspects of the film made it all the more gut wrenchingly difficult to watch when you know that things aren’t likely to pan out as she (or we) may hope.
Going into the film I never would have predicted that the biggest theme would be coping with grief, and the comedic tones are definitely present – but the emotional ties to the film are certainly prominent. Every scene between Max and Nancy (Amanda’s slasher character) probes the grim and beautiful sides of our humanity, and Malin Ackerman is exactly what her character hopes to be, a “true star.” Ackerman’s short portrayal of Amanda is enough to make her an instant favorite and lovable parental figure with her own sadness, and her depiction of Nancy gives enough nods to her counselor character but also establishes the two with clear and heartfelt similarities. The ending interactions between the pair is easily my favorite scene in the film for once again using “Bette Davis Eyes” and impactful dialogue that is topped off by one of Ackerman’s best performances to date. Yes, I completely pulled for Max as a lead and “final girl” but Amanda/Nancy was the true anchor to the film and I hope to see at least some semblance of Nancy in a sequel, given the ending leaves the option to return to a double feature.
Overall Grade: The Final Girls asserts itself as a horror, comedy, and drama film with an appreciation for films that inspired it, but mainly focuses on a real life struggle to cope with grief. The relationship between mother and daughter sheds light on something that the genre doesn’t usually care to build. Even though there is so much focus on darker subject matter, it finds time to remind us of the comedic nature from beginning to end. The Final Girls is a film that you can appreciate with each viewing and is an instant cult classic. I give Final Girls an ‘A-’
Aedan’s Final Thoughts:
- I 100% believe there needs to be a sequel with so easy opportunities to dive back into the meta realm of Camp Bloodbath.
- The entire cast were each enjoyable with the talented Malin Ackerman, Taissa Farmiga, Alexander Ludwig, Alia Shawcat, Nina Dobrev, and Angela Trimbur all bringing originality to their characters.
- I understand that part of the story was to accept loss and find strength to move forward, but I still feel like there is room for Nancy to return to the film if a sequel is made. Not only was Ackerman’s performance superbly entertaining and genuine, both characters she portrayed were the scene stealers of Final Girls.
- The only things I would have tweaked in the film would be the PG-13 rating and the end result for Nancy’s character, other than that The Final Girls is one of the best films of the year.