If it seems like just the other day that I was complaining about watching too many post-modern tongue-in-cheek slasher comedies, well, it’s because I was. Here I am, reviewing another. It seems there’s water in the well yet, because The Final Girls was pretty great.
Max’s (Taissa Farmiga) mom Amanda (Malin Akerman) was a fading scream queen, a second-tier star in the 80s cult slasher Camp Bloodbath. Years after her tragic death, Max wants little to do with her horror legacy, but reluctantly agrees to go to a screening with her friends. During the screening, there’s an accident in the theater, and while attempting to flee, Max and crew find themselves stuck in a silver screen scary movie world just up the road from none other than the legendary Camp Bloodbath. Of course, having seen a few horror films in their day, our heroes clue in quick and get to work trying to survive a 90 minute slasher classic. Can Max face losing her mother all over again?
Sounds like well-trod ground, right? From Scream to Cabin in the Woods, self-aware horror is nothing new. What makes it all work is that director Todd Strauss-Schulson knows his way around horror and comedy, and there’s real affection for the characters. Unlike many indie horror comedies, he doesn’t make the mistake of assuming that a familiar setup and the potential for comedy and horror are the same as delivering a film that actually works. There’s a solid script here filled with funny and smart moments and setups for chills, unlike many indiers whose scripts are essentially, “EXT. ROAD – DAY A sign reads SCARY CAMP. Actors ad lib for 75 minutes. Kill them all in final 15.” A serious aside: stop doing that. Please. Unless your crew are all supremely skilled at improv, learn your writing craft, give your actors some characters and real dialog, and actually think about suspense and tension.
Anyway, back to the review proper: there’s impressive skill and horror knowledge being playfully upended and skewered here, but the real surprise of The Final Girls is it’s heart. This is a touching film that gently explores Max’s grief and her relationship with her mother as much as it does horror conventions. Taissa Farmiga and Malin Akerman play off each other brilliantly, as Max fights to give her mother another chance at life, to be the hero of the film where she was previously only a bit player. If the lovey-dovey sincerity and humanity don’t do it for you – and if they don’t, why are you so cynical? – the super cool visuals will. While some of the CGI at the beginning is a bit janky, there’s all kinds of great moments in The Final Girls that play off of how films, slasher or otherwise, work. Since the characters mention a badass final fight in the fictional Camp Bloodbath, high five to Todd Strauss-Schulson for delivering on just that. The flaming, slow-motion, machete-wielding shots are Friday the 13th fan heaven.
While the film isn’t particularly scary, it makes up for it with it’s huge heart, beautiful imagery, and by being tons of fun to watch. You’ll cheer the ass-kickery, you’ll chuckle, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll sniffle a few times. It’s okay, I won’t tell.