Psst: The Final Girls was part of this year’s Spooky Movie International Film Festival at the AFI.
“First time away from home? It’s hard to be away from your parents, huh?”
Story: Max, a young woman whose mother died in a car crash, gets talked into a horror movie retrospective on the anniversary of her mom’s death. BTW, her mom played one of the victims in Camp Bloodbath, the film of the evening. So when the theater gets literally fired up, Max and her friends find themselves in the film. Literally. Can Max save her mom this time?
Scares: Though this is a horror comedy/satire, there are a few rather effective spookies among the gags.
Splat factor: Middling. Most of the kills are off-screen, and then shown in quick flashes or off-center POV. Just like back in the day!
Closing scene “shocker”?: Only if you haven’t been paying attention.
Remake, Sequel or OG (Original Ghoul)?: There are many horror spoofs, but this one is a true original.
Trick or Treat?: As I drooled over this film the moment I heard of its existence, you can pretty much bet I’m gonna like it. And surprise — I did. The Final Girls is a movie that’s worthy of the hype.
In The Final Girls, the story’s themes of family, coping with loss, and the challenges of friendship serve to ground a film that could have easily been too silly or too maudlin. Instead, each scene plays well with the next, with humor lightening the heavy issues. What also helps is a savvy, talented cast who know how to give good satire. Top of the charts in that department are Adam DeVine (Modern Family) as horny Camp counselor Kurt, and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) as Max’s BFF/hipster-in-training Gertie. But the real surprise is The Vampire Diaries Nina Dobrev, as Mean Girl Vicki. That Dobrev can channel her inner teen is no surprise after all her work on the CW, but her comedic chops are pretty damn on point too.
Then there’s the mom & daughter of the film, Malin Akerman’s Nancy (Amanda) and Taissa Farmiga’s Max. Akerman killed it in Trophy Wife (I still miss that show), and her straight-man comedic chops are in full effect here. Farmiga, whose work on American Horror Story: Coven helped make it my favorite AHS season so far, plays the sweet, naive Max with a spark of attitude. This is one “final girl” who blasts through the usual cliches. And the familial chemistry Farmiga and Akerman have is sweetly believable.
Speaking of cliches, The Final Girls takes glorious joy in showing ’em, and blowing ’em up. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson has a deft touch when it comes to satire; his A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas has the same spoofy goodness that you see here. Okay, maybe with less munchies.
My favorite bit of sillyness is sexpot weirdo Tina, the Token Horror Movie Slut of the film. Angela Trimbur plays Tina with glorious abandon, but hints at Tina’s self-knowledge, giving a the typical 80s cardboard cutout character a depth that’s refreshing. Given the fact that this character tends to get the brunt of the 80s/21st century culture clash — complete with cell phone “cassettes” and Adderall — that layer is a nice touch. Bonus: Tina/Trimbur takes the award for Best Worst Striptease Ever.
But it’s not just the screenplay and actors that get to skewer 80s horror; the art department got their hands in as well. The forest looks like a back lot nature attempt gone wrong, with fake flowers sticking up in random locations, obviously not a part of the real scenery. And many of the “kill shots” look lovingly lifted from classic slasher films from the past. SPOILER ALERT: I love that the final scene in the hospital looks like they’re at Halloween 2‘s Haddonfield Memorial, from the walls to the lights, right down to the nurse’s uniform.
The Final Girls is an amazing blend of horror, nostalgia, comedy, and the bittersweet longing for the ones we’ve lost. Grab your friends, your frenemies, your mom, and see this. And make sure you stay past the ending; there’s a blooper reel during the end credits. Enjoy.
Score: 4.5 out of 5 pumpkins.