The Final Girls
By Evan Purcell
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The Final Girls squanders its premise. It is also one of the best movies of last year.
This film has the opportunity to be a goofy, meta horror spoof, but turns into something else entirely: something emotional and sweet and kind of sad. It remains funny throughout, more or less, but not in the ways you’d expect. In other words, it succeeds at being a great film, but fails at being a horror spoof.
If you haven’t seen the trailer, don’t. It gives too much away. (Warning: It’s at the bottom of this page if you can’t resist temptation.) All you need to know is that a group of modern teens go to an old cinema and get magically sucked into an 80’s slasher film. Based on that premise, it sounds like the Wayans or Zucker brothers would step in and offer a three-joke-a-minute laughfest.
Instead, we get a heart warmer that—against all odds—humanizes the two-dimensional horror characters and gives the three-dimensional “real” characters some interesting existential dilemmas. The jokes aren’t about how stupid and horny the 80’s teens are. The jokes are about the real thoughts and feelings of teenagers, no matter how stupid and horny they may be.
The actors really give it their all, particularly the protagonist (Taissa Farmiga), who can simultaneously cry right into the camera and have about six other emotions crawl across her big-eyed, silent movie face. Malin Akerman is also a highlight, slowly morphing her bubbly, badly written character into something much more vulnerable. Most of the others—the slutty girl, the bitchy best friend, the movie geek—develop some surprising shades as the body count rises.
My disappointment, however, comes from the inauthenticity of the world. It’s a beautiful film, with bright colors and interesting camera movements, but it doesn’t look like an 80’s slasher film. It’s just too beautiful. The death scenes don’t feel like they come from a real 80’s movie. And worst of all, one of the “movie” characters is given free rein to improvise a bunch of lines, which makes him seem like he’s from a completely different (more modern) movie.
With all these issues, The Final Girls feels like a movie written by horror fans, but directed by someone who is, at best, ambivalent to the genre. I would’ve liked the look and the feel (and the murders!) to be closer to one of the Friday the 13th films, for example. None of the deaths are memorable (or particularly 80s-ish), and that just seems like a missed opportunity.
Still, the film is great. It’s just great at the things you wouldn’t expect it to be great at. It’s a horror-comedy that secretly replaces the horror with drama, but it excels at the drama in ways you’d never imagine. Perhaps that’s what makes it so effective: it surprises you with the places it goes.
For example, it has the most poignant and heartbreaking strip tease ever committed to film. If that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will.