The Final Girls
October 9, 2015
M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller
Taissa Farmiga as Max Cartwright
Malin Akerman as Nancy / Amanda Cartwright
Alexander Ludwig as Chris Briggs
In the buildup to the arrival of The Final Girls I found myself entirely torn. There was decent footage to soak up, and there were a few less than stimulating clips making the cyber rounds as well. The cast while solid wasn’t entirely overflowing with mainstream appeal, though a few participants are certainly recognizable. Production values looked fair but not fantastic; certainly respectable by indie standards. It seemed to be the exact kind of film that could be edgy just as easily as teenie bopper cheesy. It’s a tossup flick if ever we’ve seen a tossup flick. While that could no doubt deter some viewers, the truth is that unknown makes for quite the mysterious viewing experience.
Walking into risky scenarios like this tend to pan out about 50-percent of the time. For every treat you stumble upon there’s a stinker in wait. Despite the absence of a bona fide A-list ensemble, big buck special effects or even a truly aggressive marketing campaign, The Final Girls is most certainly not a stinker. There’s a lot to applaud here. Whether or not the entire picture is flawless is absolutely irrelevant, the production’s passion is easily detectable and there isn’t a hint of a cut corner throughout the length of the pic. Those involved in The Final Girls go in, all in.
The story – to an extent – borrows ideas from Jack Messitt’s indie winner, Midnight Movie. Both films bend the rules and break down the partitions separating fantasy and reality. In Midnight Movie a crazed killer manages to escape from his film to target the unsuspecting theatergoers tuning into his low budget chiller, while in The Final Girls a group of youngsters slice their way – literally – into an actual film where a serial killer hunts young naïve camp counselors in Jason Voorhees fashion. The coin has kind of been flipped in terms to conflict approach, but the similarities between both The Final Girls and Midnight Movie are no doubt identifiable and in many cases very easily detectable.
The blend of contemporary stylization and frequent throwback looks makes for a stimulating experience. The movie isn’t exactly like any you’ve seen prior and that’s either a result of calculated variety or dumb luck sporadic experiments that just so happened to pay off. Whatever the case, visually speaking The Final Girls is a refreshing look at the slasher film. There are no safe maneuvers made in the production and that not only helps to distract us from the elements of the story that are familiar, but also respect evident courage on film. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson is a brave fellow, and it pays off for him through the adventure of The Final Girls.
You’ve already been given a very vague idea as to what the story is all about, but I’ll fill in a few additional details that should really get the pot of interest boiling. One of the film’s obvious final girls, Max, lost her mother three years prior to the focal events of the film in a devastating car accident. Her mother was also the star of the slasher film that Max and her friends find themselves viewing on the big screen three years after the death of her mother, when they unexpectedly realize they’re trapped in a movie theater, at the mercy of fiction’s credulously grim reality. That makes for an interesting intersection of time all the while blurring the lines of fact and fiction. If Max finds herself trapped in this film with her mother, long before her mother had ever given birth to her daughter, a major question is birthed: is her mother her actual mother, or is she nothing more than the character from the film? Furthermore how can that effect the relationship between each young woman, and will they share an unspoken bond?
Ah, thinking about the insanity of it almost induces a headache… although it is – admittedly – the kind of headache you don’t mind all too much; it is confusion rather than discomfort.
And unfortunately, I really can’t divulge too many more details. The last thing I aim to do is spoil the picture for you, and there are a staggering amount of details that I’d like to spread in your direction, and that simply cannot hppen. But trust this: there are plenty of surprises in store. And even if you’re stoked to hear that the film isn’t necessary going to deliver every obvious and anticipated jolt, you’ll likely be even more stoked to discover that The Final Girls will catch you completely off guard on more than one instance. There are a few compelling surprises in wait.
When it comes to the cast there’s nothing but high praises to be spread. Taissa Farmiga (who you’ll recognize from American Horror Story) does a great job as the vulnerable but assertive Max. She’s always aware of her surroundings and she’s always looking out for the best interest of the group. Malin Akerman plays the dual roles of Nancy and Amanda Cartwright, and like Farmiga’s character she has her head on straight and she’s extremely likable. We want to see this looker make it to see the final credits, but this is a tricky meta piece that just about ensures that both Nancy and Amanda will not be so fortunate. Alexander Ludwig (who was also in this year’sFinal Girl, interestingly enough) turns in strong work as the male hero of the bunch, and Adam DeVine, Thomas Middleditch and Nina Dobrev all bring bit players some solid shine. The cast is great, and there’s strong chemistry between the lot that ensures we believe in these people and we’re sympathetic to their troubles.
The Final Girls had me on the fence like few other films this year have managed; I just wasn’t certain of what to expect. The PG-13 rating also cast a shadow of doubt. But despite the rating, and despite the generally tame sequences of violence, the film is surprisingly enjoyable. It’s a fun flick that juggles a throwback atmosphere and a contemporary vibe quite well. Technically speaking the feature is impressive, the cast is awesome, the concept – though, as noted, recently explored in Midnight Movie – is engaging and director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s understanding of fluid storytelling helps to elevate the feature far above your typical genre fare. The Final Girls is a good flick, and if you’re torn on whether you should seek this one out, or choose to instead pursueFinal Girl, pass on the latter and stick with the former, it’s infinitely more charming.