Taking popular horror tropes and turning them on their heads is nothing new – the “final girl” trope is easily the most recognized of such – but the key to making such a twist work is in how well you execute it, and in having the “final girl” being someone the audience can actually get behind. In Adam Wingard’s 2011 horror film You’re Next, we got what seemed to be your typical slasher film, but then Wingard turned things around by revealing that hunters may have picked the wrong target this time. Now, we look at 2015’s Final Girl to see another attempt at basically the same thing, only it doesn’t quite work.
The movie opens with an interrogation-type interview with a five-year-old girl named Veronica; she has just been orphaned, but seems to take the news of her parents’ death surprisingly well. Her interviewer is a man named William (Wes Bentley) who finds her emotional displacement, the ability to solve puzzles rapidly, and that she has total memory recall, to be ideal attributes to join his organization. Twelve years later, we find Veronica (Abigail Breslin) finishing her training with William – her road to being a badass assassin complete – and there is some sexual tension between pupil and master.
Her first mission is to take out a group of seventeen-year-old dudes who have apparently hunted and killed over a dozen girls; the murderous group consists of Jameson (Alexander Ludwig), Danny (Logan Huffman), Nelson (Reece Thompson), and Shane (Cameron Bright), and for some reason these guys feel they need to dress up like Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack for these hunting parties. Veronica goes on a recon mission to the local diner where the boys hang out (This movie seems to take place either in the late 50s or early 60s, but it’s never made clear), and from Shane’s girlfriend, she intuits that the boys are on the verge of falling out. How is this information useful? Will it be her key to taking down this group?
When you sit down to watch Final Girl, you will quickly tally up a shitload of questions – none of which the director or writers apparently thought were worth addressing – and this is really the downfall of the film. Now, I’m not the type of person that has to have everything spelled out for them – a little ambiguity in a horror film can be great thing – but almost from the first frame of this film, the audience is left in the dark as to why any of the characters are doing what they are doing, or how they are getting away with it. It would appear that director Tyler Shields was just interested in seeing the “defenseless” girl turn the tables on her killers without bothering to work in any backstory as to why we should care. The amount of questions that we are left with by the end of this film is staggering, but here a few key ones.
• How did Veronica’s parents die? Was it the work of serial killers?
• What kind organization recruits five-year-old girls to be trained as killers?
• Does William care for Veronica beyond the master/student relationship?
• How did these guys find twenty girls willing to get into a car with four young men, men they don’t know?
• To rack up twenty kills, did these asshole start their killing when they were ten?
• How do four seventeen-year-old assholes hunt and murder all these girls in a small town and not get caught?
The big question comes when we finally arrive at the third act – where we get to see Veronica kick some serious psycho ass – and I was left wondering what was the point of all this; “What is this secret organization’s ultimate goal?” Veronica is able to slip a hallucinogenic to three of the killers, so they can apparently confront their worst fears, and then she kills them, but if the organization is aware of this particular group of serial killers, why the elaborate sting operation? Why not just have William kill these asshats? What’s the point of having a “victim” turning the tables? Is seeing your worst fear before dying some kind of Tales From the Crypt ironic punishment?
The movie is beautifully shot – though at times it seemed that this particular forest had a surprising amount of studio lights hidden in amongst the trees – and Abigail Breslin did a fine job as the La Femme Nikita-type killer (though if she had been training to be an assassin for twelve years, these high school kids put up a surprisingly good fight), and Alexander Ludwig was especially chilling as the leader of the Wolf Pack. Final Girl has the germ of a good idea but the filmmakers drowned it under a plethora of “crazy banter” and unexplained backstories. The movie at no point engages the audiences and thus becomes rather boring and forgettable, being well shot and well-acted is not enough to save this film nor enough for me to recommend it.
Note: Actor Alexander Ludwig – in the very same year as this film – starred in a nice meta-horror film that was funnily enough called The Final Girls.