“The Final Girls” Movie Review


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      The indie horror entry “The Final Girls” plays like a well mixed concoction of standard horror film tropes layered within a narrative similar to “Back to the Future”.  From the opening sequence to the very last, the film, directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, has an extremely familiar feel to it.  Perhaps his intention, along with screenwriters M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, was to create a homage both to the slasher films of the early eighties and to Wes Craven’s “Scream” which essentially functioned the same way with characters having the benefit of knowing how a real life horror film will play out.  While Craven’s film was much smarter and better written, “The Final Girls” benefits from inventive plotting and hints of originality within a number of scenes.  There are a number of glaring flaws, but Strauss-Schulson succeeds in genuine emotion between the two lead characters, thanks to a believable mother/daughter relationship which serves as the core of the story.

     The sounds of Kim Carnes’ 1981 hit single “Bette Davis Eyes” play through the speakers of Amanda’s (Malin Akerman) car stereo as she and her daughter, Max (Taissa Farmiga) gleefully act out the lyrics while driving to dinner.  Amanda, as we are told, is a struggling actress who gained fame in the early eighties for her role in a cult horror film called “Camp Bloodbath”.  An obvious play on the “Friday the 13th” films, “Camp Bloodbath” is the story of a group of camp counselors, Kurt (Adam DeVine), Tina (Angela Trimbur), Blake (Tory N. Thompson), and Nancy (Akerman’s Scream Queen character),  who fall prey to a formerly tormented and bullied teen named Billy.  Billy stalks the group one by one and tends to appear either during or right after his various victims have had sex.  During the opening sequence, we know Amanda no longer benefits from her fame and may even have difficulty connecting with Max, though we can also tell the love between the two is genuine, a relationship attribute that becomes important later.  When a mishap inside the car forces Amanda to take her eyes of the road, the car violently crashes into a construction area and ultimately kills Amanda.

     After the title is revealed by way of the same glowing light coming from behind the letters technique employed by both Wes Craven for his “Scream” films and John Carpenter for “The Thing” (The latter of which achieved the effect by creating a stencil of the title and submerging it in water, shining a bright light from behind and filming it.), the story moves forward three years, as we are taken to the anniversary of Max’s mom’s death.  Her friend’s step brother, Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), works at a local theater and has planned a screening of “Camp Bloodbath”, while hoping to convince Max not only to attend, but also participate in an after film Q & A.  Throughout “The Final Girls”, I felt as though the screenwriters ran into a number of road blocks in their attempts to explain why certain things happen and how they would get the characters to the next scene.  I’m sure they generally knew what they wanted to accomplish with the story and probably had a good idea how it would end, but the trick was getting the audience to buy in to how they would get there.  The first of these issues crop up during the sequence in the movie theater.

     In “Back to the Future”, the Doc Brown character deemed it important enough to actually explain to Marty (and the audience) how they were going to achieve time travel.  Sometimes, that’s all it takes for a film’s story to remain plausible.  Come up with some semblance of an explanation and we’ll run with it.  Strauss-Schulson apparently doesn’t feel that’s necessary here.  While Max and her friends are watching “Camp Bloodbath” on screen, a series of accidents (spilled alcoholic beverages, dropped cigarettes, etc.) occur that result in the entire theater being set on fire.  As the rest of the crowd runs frantically towards the exits, Max and her friends, Gertie (Alia Shawkat), Vicki (Nina Dobrev), Chris (Alexander Ludwig), and Duncan instead choose to slash a hole in the middle of the movie screen.  As they walk through the hole, they are suddenly and mysteriously transported into the actual movie!  We aren’t given any reason as to why or how this would happen, so it’s best to just accept it and move on.

     What follows are several genuinely sweet moments when Max finds herself reconnected with her mom who plays the aforementioned counselor named Nancy in the faux movie.  Of course one of the more noticeable flaws staring us right in the face is the fact actress Malin Akerman is 37 years old and doesn’t exactly look like the 18 year old she is portraying in “Camp Bloodbath”.  It might have been smarter for Strauss-Schulson to go with a younger actress so she would’ve looked to be the same age as Max, but again there is plenty here you have to accept without explanation in order properly enjoy the film, so it’s best to move on from these discrepancies.  As the group relives the moments of the film in seemingly real life, which also means interacting with the film’s characters and their over the top dialogue. 

     Some of the best moments in the film belong to Angela Timbur’s Tina character as she attempts to determine how Vicki’s smart phone could possibly be a phone without a connecting wire. We also get dialogue in which they attempt, in similar fashion to “Scream”, to use their knowledge of what comes next in order to survive and get to the end of the film.  The problem is, they don’t know what will happen if they survive as there is no clear path to getting back to their own reality.  And these are questions the filmmakers never really answer either, leaving gaping plot holes within the overall story in the process.  GRADE: C