Why is it that whenever a filmmaker wishes to lovingly poke fun at the horror genre, it’s invariably the slasher genre that gets singled out for good natured kicking?
I mean, sure, other horror sub-genres have had to endure the spotlight of cinematic ridicule (I mean, if you really want to accept that Repossessed exists, there’s not really much I can do to stop you), but pound for pound it’s almost always the cheesy antics of a masked slasher targeting a bunch of teens with the sex drive of Michael Douglas.
The Scream franchise is obviously legendary and if you haven’t seen Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil you might want to rectify that post haste, but in 2015 we got Todd Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls, another attempt to level some meta-based laughter at the most teased of genres, but does it really have anything new to say..?
Max Cartwright is still trying to deal with the untimely death of her actress mother three years after she died in a car crash while trying to balance studying and a budding relationship with hunky nice guy Chris when the film-geek stepbrother of her best friend Gertie insists that they all go to an anniversary screening of Camp Bloodbath, the 80’s cult slasher that starred Max’s mother and subsequently derailed her career. Initially and understandably reluctant, Max is convinced to go only to find that Chris’ clingy ex-girlfriend Vicki, has invited herself along thanks to an Adderall inspired brainwave. However, during the screening, a freak fire breaks out and in an effort to escape the gang they to find a fire escape by slicing through the cinema screen and thus find themselves inside the movie.
While their reactions range from disbelief to elevation (horror nerd Duncan is ecstatic), the group soon realise that they’re going to have to play along with the movie’s plot if they’re ever going to make it back to the real world and start getting to know the air-headed, vapid slasher stereotypes that are killing around the camp. Max makes a bee line for Nancy, the character her mother played who is destined to get slaughtered on a water bed minutes after losing her cherry to insipid alpha male Kurt and immediately tries to convince her otherwise. But due to their meddling, the wrong kids start dying in the wrong order at the hands of vengeful, hulking, disfigured, slasher Billy Murphy and soon the entire plot is an utter mess with the movie’s established “final girl” immolated in a car crash. With the original virginal heroine charbroiled to a crisp, that leaves Max and Nancy the only virgins left to kill the slasher in the final reel, but movie lore dictates that there can only be one survivor – can Max stand to lose her “mother” one more time in order to live?
While falling to reach the dizzy heights of the titles I mentioned previously (seriously, Tucker And Dale Vs Evil needs to be seen by more people), The Final Girls still has enough perky attitude to be a diverting, if slightly forgettable watch. It’s not for the want of trying though, as the script contains a couple of genuinely cracking ideas as the leads try to clumsily negotiate a world governed by movie logic. Behold the reality warping effects when someone instigates a flash back, something the characters manage to actually weaponize later on and characters nonchalantly step over title cards that appear in their way in a neat little touches that work really nicely.
Less effective are some of the performances and characterizations from the surprisingly familiar cast and while the relationship between Max and her mother/Nancy is legitimately touching thanks to solid work from Taissa Farmiga and a typically bubbly Malin Åkerman, a lot of proven comedic talent is sort of wasted in roles that just aren’t that particularly funny. While Adam DeVine is free to riff to his heart’s content as the unfathomably skeezy movie jock, Kurt; Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat, Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch and Nina Dobrev do the best they can with roles just as thinly sketched as those of the characters in the movie.
Whether to say that the movie actually makes good on its promise of being a “love letter” to 80’s horror is open for debate, but the summer camp setting and nature of the killer entertainingly fuses Friday The 13th with The Burning with Billy Murphy being hideously burned due to a callous, firecracker incident. But even here The Final Girls manages to underachieve somewhat with the hulking slasher merely being a basic, tikki-mask wearing Jason clone who is neither particularly threatening or funny and is a missed opportunity to try something that could have subverted the rules somewhat. Of course, at this point in history, taking pot shots at 80’s slasher movies seems to be like shooting fish in a barrel with a bazooka as the notion behind this movie is becoming noticably overfamilar and more than a little tired.
It’s not to say that The Final Girls isn’t fun, or funny, it’s just that save the odd, innovative wrinkle, you’ve seen this done before and done better. For all it’s quirks, it’s just nowhere near as sharp or as brutal as Scream, while the slapstick and sweetness simply aren’t as endearing as (yes, this again) Tucker And Dale. There are chuckles to be had and it makes for a neat little time waster thanks to its brief running time and playful banter, but The Final Girls is far from being the final word on twisting the knife into goofy 80’s slasher riffs.