[review by JA Kerswell]
|Teenagers from 2015 find themselves trapped in a 1986 slasher movie in THE FINAL GIRLS.|
THE FINAL GIRLS is a slasher movie with heart – and not just the ripped out kind. Todd Strauss-Schulson's love letter to 80s slashers is a rare beast indeed. A horror comedy that is as funny as it is clever. It not only manages to deliver the slasher movie thrills, but even threatens to jerk a few tears in its 91 minute running time. Also, the inspiration for the film's central premise is as fascinating as it is surprising.
Max (Taissa Farmiga) supports her Mom Nancy (Malin Akerman) as she struggles to find acting roles. Nancy is only remembered for her role in mid-80s slasher CAMP BLOODBATH. Tragically, she dies in a car crash driving back from another failed audition. Three years later, Max is trying to move on from her mother's death. One of her friends, Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), persuades her to come a retro cinema showing of CAMP BLOODBATH 1 and 2 and she agrees to go against her better judgment. Her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat) and would-be boyfriend Chris (Alexander Ludwig) come along to show support. Gatecrashing the night is Vicki (Nina Dobrev), Chris' bitchy ex. During the screening of the first film, a dropped cigarette and rolling bottle of vodka ignites an inferno that quickly engulfs the cinema. The only way out is through the screen showing the movie. And Max cuts through it just as Nancy dies in the film at the hands of the film's Tiki-masked psycho Billy Murphy (Daniel Norris). Max and her group escape the fire, but find themselves trapped inside the 1986 film they have just been watching and have to figure how to escape the cyclical nightmare of the bloodbath at Camp Blue Finch …
Strauss-Schulson's film captures the popcorn thrills of an 80s slasher flick. He has fun with the pop culture references, but the film doesn't drown in them. The script also knows that even jerks and bitches in slasher movies need to be endearing and not just plain obnoxious (a mistake many modern slashers make). The cast is clearly having the time of their lives (or deaths). The culture clash gives the movie many of its laughs and benefits from broad, yet very effective, standout comedic turns by two of the 80s characters: Angela Trimbur (as Tina the hyperactive good-time girl) and Kurt (Adam Devine as the knucklehead, sex-obsessed counsellor). Despite fun turns all round, the film centres on the touching relationship between Max and Nancy, as their characters traverse the mind-fuckery; eventually emotionally reconnect – and ultimately get some closure.
|80s slasher movie cliches come to life - and wonderfully so - in THE FINAL GIRLS.|
A big part of the credit for how well the film works must go to co-screenwriter Joshua John Miller. Miller has quite the horror pedigree. He appeared as a child actor in HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), as well as Kathryn Bigelow's NEAR DARK (1987). He is the son of late actor Jason Miller – who is probably best known for his role as Father Damien Harris in THE EXORCIST (1973). Miller told the LA Times that the film: “[was a way] … to deconstruct the experience of having grown up in the shadow of the most famous horror film ever made and its effects on me and the strange comforts it also gives me.” Miller further expressed how strange it was to see his father die on screen and – now that he had passed in real life – what the fantasy would be to meet a deceased parent again inside a movie.
As good as it is, the central premise of THE FINAL GIRLS is not an original one. Ever since the Bill Murray comedy GROUNDHOG DAY (1993), the time loop movie has been something of a mainstay in horror, sci-fi and thriller genres. Hell, the idea of a time loop in a horror movie even goes back to the British anthology DEAD OF NIGHT (1945). It's not even the first slasher movie to use this premise. Alex Pucci's entertaining, yet little seen, CAMP DAZE (2005) did it ten years earlier, where a group of teenagers find themselves trapped in a recurring night in 1981 as they try and survive another psycho killing spree at a campground. The idea of combining the time-loop and slasher movie has been further revitalised in recent years with the HAPPY DEATH DAY movies (2017 and 2019).
|Unlike many slasher movies, Todd Strauss-Schulson's THE FINAL GIRLS, tugs at the heart-strings - before pulling them out!|
Given that the film took almost a decade in gestation (the concept was pitched as far back as 2007) suggests we may have seen a very different version of THE FINAL GIRLS at various points in time. New Line (of course known as the house that Freddy built) nearly backed the film, but wanted to eliminate the more character-based elements – including Max and Nancy's mother/daughter relationship. After entering development hell, it was eventually rescued by Sony Studios, who liked these elements but insisted on a PG-13 rating. It would have been interesting to have seen a version of the film with more typical gore and other exploitation elements, but it's almost perfect as it is.
Principal photography took place between April and May 2014 with a budget of $4.5 million. Filming took place in Baton Rouge and St. Francisville, Louisiana – with some also in Los Angeles. THE FINAL GIRLS created plenty of buzz at the SXSW and Los Angeles film festivals, but sadly got largely overlooked on its release (something that sadly nixed a mooted sequel). It got a limited theatrical release and to VOD in October 2015. Rod Pocowatchit, in The Wichita Eagle, enthused: “... it works, thanks to a crackling script and a game cast.” Starburst Magazine said in its retrospective of 2015: “The Final Girls is one of the lesser-known bright sparks [… of that year] and one that deserves to be hunted down.”
The balancing act between comedy, retro slasher and providing heart is a tricky one to achieve and it is testament to the team in front and behind the cameras that THE FINAL GIRLS is a modern genre gem.
female: 7 / male: 5
1) Female dies in car crash
2) Male has neck snapped
3) Female has neck snapped
4) Male hit by car
5) Male thrown through windscreen
6) Female dies in car explosion
7) Female falls into bear trap
8) Male slashed with machete
9) Female dies in explosion
10) Female dies in explosion
11) Female run through with machete
12) Male decapitated with machete
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