If Friday the 13th had a love child with Pleasantville the result would be Todd Strauss-Schulson’s ode to slasher films, The Final Girls. Written by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, and starring a talented teen body count, this movie has everything a fan of the genre could want. What is surprising is that it also has a lot of heart, not something we often get in a horror film.
The film begins by introducing us to Amanda Cartwright (Malin Åkerman), a wannabe movie star whose biggest claim to fame was in playing a slasher victim in an 80s cult classic called Camp Bloodbath. After leaving a not so happy audition she bemoans to her daughter Max (Taissa Farmiga) that she will forever be known as that Scream Queen. Mother and daughter make for a great team; Max is the sensible one of the pair, concerned with things like paying the electric bill, while her mother would much rather dance in the backyard while singing Bette Davis Eyes. In a short time we quickly see how these two have a great relationship and really love each other, which sucks because in the very next minute they’re in a car accident that claims the life of Amanda.
The film jumps ahead three years where we find a still sad Max trying to get her grades up so that she can get into college. She is helped by her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), a possible love interest in the form of hunky Chris (Alexander Ludwig), and Gertie’s step-brother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), a horror super fan who offers to do all of Classic assignments for the remainder of the year if she will attend a screening of Camp Bloodbath and Camp Bloodbath 2: Cruel Summer. This is the anniversary of her mother’s death so even though she agrees to go she brings along the moral support of both Gertie and Chris. What she also gets is uber-bitch, and Chris’ possessive ex-girlfriend, Vicki (Nina Dobrev) crashing the party. When idiots spill vodka, and an errant cigarette butt lands ignites it, the theatre to erupts in flames and our heroes, Vicki included, rush for safety. Unfortunately Max uses a prop machete to cut a hole in the theatres screen in the hope of finding a way out, but instead of reaching the rear exit doors they all find themselves in even more dangerous surroundings.
The group is confused when they are no longer in a burning building but now in a sun dappled woods, but then things take a turn for the even more bizarre when a Volkswagen van pulls up that is occupied by the cast of Camp Bloodbath. They are in the movie. What follows is our cast of characters trying to figure out how to best survive their strange predicament, and knowing how the movie ends isn’t as helpful as one would think. The obvious tactics would be to stay close to the movie’s badass “Final Girl” Paula (Chloe Bridges) or maybe stop people from having sex, which is what brings the killer like Pavlov’s dog, but it’s a lot trickier than that, especially with the nigh unstoppable Billy Murphy (Dan B. Norris) breathing down their necks. Who will survive? Can our heroes save the sex crazed jerk Kurt (Adam DeVine), the camps dim but lovable slut Tina (Angela Trimbur), or even the token black kid (Tory N. Thompson)? Or is changing the script impossible?
The Final Girls is endlessly clever, taking some of the horror movie tropes that films like Scream have already poked fun at, but then delving deeper into them and making them fresh again. There is a particularly brilliant bit where Nancy (the character Max’s mom played in the movie) starts to tell the story of Billy Murphy, and then Max and friends are caught off guard as the world around them starts to drip and shift into black and white.
That’s just one of many really brilliant moments that makes this such an fun movie, and also makes one realize how good The Last Action Hero could have been if they had decent writers who understood the tropes of the genre, and could organically work them into a fantasy plot, instead of just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. This film never betrays its roots, and is a true love letter to fans of the genre, but like I said earlier it’s the film’s heart that makes it stand out. When Max encounters Nancy, and has to deal with the emotional drama of seeing her dead mother alive again, this is when the film really gets to you and takes the story to a whole other level. The relationship between these two is truly the core of the film, and I never thought I’d ever find myself tearing up while watching a slasher film, but this movie did it. All this plus having characters ponder such questions as…
Because aside from having some great horror elements, a lot of emotional weight, and a cool looking villain, this film is also extremely funny. So if you are up for a wonderful nostalgic trip back in time with a group of self-aware misfits than this movie could be right up your alley. I can’t recommend this enough, it is just so much fun, and I really do hope they get a sequel off the ground.