What would happen if you combined a mid-1980s slasher flick with the “history repeating itself” hook of Groundhog Day and the highly underrated 1992 television satire Stay Tuned? Well, you might get a movie that looks a little like Todd Strauss-Schulson’s clever, strange, and consistently funny The Final Girls, but it probably wouldn’t be quite this entertaining. (It’s also a little bit like Scream.) (Also The Purple Rose of Cairo.)
Without spoiling any of the film’s myriad surprises, let’s just say that The Final Girls is about a contemporary collection of stereotypical horror characters (the mean girl, the virgin, the stoner, etc.) who find themselves stuck inside of a 1986 horror flick called Camp Bloodbath, which of course is stocked with an antiquated collection of stereotypical horror movie characters (the vulgar stooge, the new age nerd, the perpetually horny young minx, etc.), as well as a machete-wielding masked maniac who can only be destroyed by the true “final girl.”
It all sounds pretty complicated (it’s not) and super “meta” (it is), but The Final Girls deserves a hearty pat on the back for finding new ways in which to tweak, mock, and parody a sub-genre as frequently derided as the slasher flick. Most horror satires focus mainly on the simplistic plots, the silly characters, and the roster of now-patented clichés (like the one that says only a virgin can slay the monster) – but The Final Girls goes even farther than that: surprisingly effective and endearingly goofy visual gags about flashback sequences, voice-over narration, and on-screen titles run rampant as our modern-day ensemble tries to find its way out of this tacky old-school horror movie limbo.
And it’s in that “ensemble” department that The Final Girls really shines. The concept is certainly clever, and the screenplay is often as slyly witty as it is outright silly, but without a game group of actors who not only “get” the satirical tone but joyfully embrace it, your movie probably won’t turn out all that hot. From Adam DeVine’s hilariously repulsive “ladies man” to Alexander Ludwig’s affable lug to Thomas Middleditch’s blithely stupid stoner dude, the males are certainly well-represented here – but given that the flick is called The Final Girls, you can expect the ladies to rule the day.
As our heroine and resident virgin, Taissa Farmiga brings a welcome dash of sweetness and humanity to what is essentially a pretty insane movie. Aside from the lovely Malin Akerman (who gets to play two distinctly different roles and shares some surprisingly sweet moments with Ms. Farmiga), the rest of the gals are pretty nuts: there’s the droll and sardonic smart girl (Alia Shawkat), the gorgeous but mean-spirited ice queen (Nina Dobrev), the tough-as-nails butt-kicker (Chloe Bridges), and the energetic hottie (Angela Trimbur) who seemingly can’t keep her top on for more than 15 minutes.
Satire is generally considered to be a dish best served cold, but in the case of B-movie homages like The Final Girls, it’s the welcome dash of affection for cheesy horror films that elevates the film from amusing novelty to something clever enough to get excited about. That it’s a funny, creative, fast-paced, and well-shot satire is good enough; that the cast is this much fun is what makes it especially noteworthy.
It’s clear that the people behind The Final Girls (particularly screenwriters M.A. Fortin and Joshua James Miller) know their old-school slasher flicks as well as anyone (and are well aware of how silly those films generally are), which allows them to poke fun at an endless array of cliches and stereotypes – while still finding a way to honor the nostalgia we feel for the horror movies we saw when we were young. Even the really bad ones like Camp Bloodbath.
Plus it’s also sort of sweet, if you can believe that.
– Scott Weinberg