"An efficient and wacky homage to ‘80s summer camp slasher films.”
It is always the virgin that kills the psychopathic murderer. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson recycles the same ever-effective formula and integrates a tinge of mystical time skip in his latest feature. In The Final Girls, a group of modern youths find themselves entrapped in a super-cheesy ‘80s slasher movie.
The film opens with an accident. California-based B-horror movie actress Amanda (Malin Akerman) is driving home with her teenage daughter Max (Taissa Farmiga). They are having a cozy mother-daughter bonding time when their car collides into another.
Three years later and Max, prim and timid as always, is still struggling with her mother’s death. It turns out that Amanda’s movies have become cult classics. Through her best friend Gertie’s (Alia Shawkat) hipster step-brother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), she receives an invitation as a guest of honor for the special screening of her mother's ‘80s slasher fan-favorite Camp Bloodbath at a local Encino theatre of which she reluctantly accepts. At the event, she is pleased when Chris (Alexander Ludwig), a cutie and hunky classmate who obviously has a crush on her, turns up but not so much for her ex-bestie and “it girl” Vicki (Nina Dobrev). However, some over-enthusiastic fans accidentally set the theatre on fire. Max and her friends gather together and escape by cutting a whole through the movie screen.
To their surprise, the group finds themselves inside Amanda’s 1986 horror flick. They roam around Camp Bluefinch, aka Camp Bloodbath, and posing as the new counsellors, they meet the movie’s cast: alpha-male and horndog Kurt (Adam DeVine), airhead party-girl Tina (Angela Trimbur), New Waver Blake (Tory N. Thompson), femme fatale Paula (Chloe Bridges), and of course, innocent-looking girl "with a clipboard and a guitar" Nancy. Max knows that Nancy, the role played by Amanda, dies the moment she loses her virginity. So while she and her friends try to alter the course of the movie, they also realize that they have also become targets of demented madman Billy (Dan Norris).
The Final Girls pays worthy homage to slasher movies, borrowing familiar tropes from Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and similar cult classics. It is a respectful and faithful spoof to conventional “summer camp” horror action flicks while infusing an intriguing and cunning level of dynamism with the addition of contemporary characters. It is an innovative and bright approach and though it remains very predictable, it is nonetheless effectively funny.
The film is mostly wildly hilarious, especially during the early period when the wacky assholes and sick bitches are still alive and spreading gags like wildfire. It blatantly raided horror movie canons and restyles them into witty fashions. Jokes are excessive, over-the-top and adroitly timed to give characters moments to breathe and regain their sanity. Physical humor is abundant from the realistic retro look of the setting (celluloid woods are adorable) up to how the film skips time and place. When the movie shows flashbacks, everything turns black-and-white and on-screen text becomes three-dimensional objects that the characters would have to step over them.
However, when the body count starts to pile up, the film also starts to lose its energy and settles for the expected. Initial madness is gone, replaced with standard final-moment melodrama.
The characters are truly interesting, particularly the Camp Bloodbath cast. They are diverse and well-observed. Akerman proves that she is a nominal scream queen with solid comic flair. Co-stars Trimbur and Devine make the most of their comic opportunities, especially Trimbur who remains amusing even in the background.
The younger generations are somewhat disappointing. They are too over-serious, possibly because they know what will happen, that they lose their identities, almost interchangeable if not for their obvious physical differences. They are too dull, conservative and parental to the fictional characters. While Dobrev and Ludwig are just pretty faces, Farmiga falls short in giving charm to her overly burdened and vulnerable character.
The Final Girls is initially silly and constantly messes horror-movie conventions in a good and funny way. Eventually, it loses its charming madness and what remain are the usual and familiar. Still, it is an effectively hilarious and an affectionate tribute to slasher flicks.
Production company: Stage 6
Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Adam DeVine, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Angela Trimbur, Dan Norris, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson, Reginald R. Robinson, Lauren Elise Gros
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Screenwriters: M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller
Producers: Michael London, Janice Williams
Executive producers: Darren Demetre, M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller
Director of photography: Elie Smolkin
Production designer: Katie Byron
Costume designer: Lynette Meyer
Editor: Debbie Berman