The Final Girls, the latest feature from the A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas director Todd Strauss
Commencing with the car-accident death of Amanda (Malin Åkerman) – infamous scream queen star of in-film slasher flick Camp Bloodbath and mother of our “final girl” Max (Taissa Farmiga) – The Final Girls places us in familiar territory, spring-boarding off the opening kill of an irrelevant character into the introduction of our leads. In addition to the aforementioned Max, there’s Gertie (Alia Shawkat), Chris (Alexander Ludwig), Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), and Vicki (Nina Dobrev), and we first see them en route to a back-to-back screening of Camp Bloodbath and Camp Bloodbath 2: Cruel Summer. After a ridiculous chain of events trigger a fire in the cinema, Max rips a hole in the screen as our group of young protagonists escape into… the first installment in the Camp Bloodbath series. While this may sound like an entertaining set-up to a fun, if generic, sounding meta-slasher, The Final Girls lacks any of the creative flair or interesting characterization to hold a project like this together. In addition, Strauss-Schulson doesn’t go down the path of complete and utter balls-to-the-wall parody demonstrated by Joseph Kahn in his cult-flop Detention, a move that would have made a film like this at least worthwhile.
Inside Camp Bloodbath, the teens encounter a cast of ’80s slasher stereotypes (sort of, we’ll get to this later), including Max’s mother’s character Nancy – who is infamously murdered after having sex in the film. Meddling with the universe, our leads attempt to alter the film series’ canon and survive its runtime, a thin plotline that is often intercut with groanworthy humour and lazy twists.
The performances aren’t particularly impressive here, with a who’s who cast of minor comedic actors delivering half-baked performances that strive for tongue-in-cheek but fall short. Additionally, the film’s overtly cheap digital aesthetic is unintentionally gross, with a particularly lacklustre post-production color correction for such a mid-budget indie. M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller’s script is tonally all over the place and its weak narrative isn’t enough to even maintain momentum over a 90 minute runtime. It would be easy to overlook all of this if the film was at least somewhat funny but alas: most attempts at humour fall flat, with its mostly one-note brand of comedy growing increasingly irksome.
But all of these issues pale in comparison to its central conceptual conundrum. Apart from being far too toned down and teen-friendly to really hit the necessary gory beats required to sustain any slasher flick, its grasp on the genre is simply poor, playing up false clichés that have incorrectly entered the horror zeitgeist and, in doing so, misrepresenting the film’s canonical roots.1 As such, it’s not really a film for horror fans, it instead seems to want to give its audience a strange sense of superiority over the genre and those who love it.
Considering all of this, it’s extremely odd that The Final Girls played to such positive reception at SXSW, although this may be down to the fact that it didn’t screen in SXSW’s “Midnighters” horror sidebar. While the hype films that come out of that festival aren’t always the strongest pieces of cinema, The Final Girls must be one of the worst world premieres there in recent memory.2
Ultimately, a film that shoots this low and misses is unforgivable; The Final Girls‘ premise should be so simple to execute, and it’s near shocking to see it fall apart this dramatically, with the creative team behind the project failing to even demonstrate any real interest in the horror genre beyond a target for cynicism.