Movies · Reviews

The Final Girls Is a Sweetly Humorous Love Letter to Slasher Films

By  · Published on October 8th, 2015

Sony Pictures Worldwide

Max (Taissa Farmiga) lost her mom Nancy (Malin Akerman) three years ago, and while she’s moving on with her life the memory is still fresh in her mind. Her mom was a struggling actress whose most high profile role was in an ’80s slasher called Camp Bloodbath as “the shy girl with a clipboard and a guitar,” and while it’s a cult favorite the film interfered with her career aspirations until the day she died. Max resists when a friend asks her to make an appearance at an anniversary screening of the film – watching her mom die onscreen is understandably unappealing – but she eventually relents and joins her friends and a rowdy crowd for a night of blood-drenched fun.

An unexpected series of events leaves Max and her friends looking for an emergency exit out of the theater, but when they slice their way through the movie screen to escape they awaken in the woods… and in Camp Bloodbath. The movie is now happening around them – the sexy shenanigans, the kills, the endless genre cliches – and reunited with her mom, or at least the character her mom plays who’s destined to die at the end of the killer’s blade, Max, her friends and the movie’s unwitting camp counselors have to rally together to find a new ending where they all survive.

The Final Girls is more than just a brilliant, high-concept setup – it’s also an incredibly fun homage to ’80s slasher films and their tropes as well as a surprisingly sweet look at grief, moving forward and the things we sacrifice for those we love. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s sophomore feature shows genuine affection for the genre and its characters, and he brings that heart along with a gleeful sense of humor and real creativity.

When Max and her friends enter the film within a film it plays like Friday the 13th meets Pleasantville as they attempt to play by this new universe’s rules before realizing they need to break them if they want to help these characters and return home. The counselors are the characters as opposed to the actors playing them, so this existence is all they know – Kurt (Adam DeVine) is a sex-starved sleaze, Tina (Angela Trimbur) is his female equivalent and Max’s mom is quiet girl with aspirations beyond working at a summer camp – and much of the film’s humor comes from this clash of modern day reality and ’80s slasher sensibility.

Mark Fortin and Joshua John Miller’s script is filled with fun nods to both the genre itself and the meta nature of what’s happening – onscreen text is visible to Max and company, the killer’ appearance can be triggered by the hint of sexual activity – but there are a few odd missteps. None are major issues, but while the film nails this modern variation on the “final girl” concept it noticeably fumbles the one in Camp Bloodbath. Nancy’s character, the shy virgin, would have been the final girl in any ’80s slasher, but here she’s relegated to victim. Instead we’re given a visibly tough, muscle car-loving rock n roll chick (Chloe Bridges) who has more in common with the heroine of 2011’s You’re Next than the ones in Halloween, Terror Train, Prom Night let alone any ’80s slasher not starring Jamie Lee Curtis.

The surprise here is in how much genuine emotion and heart is on display in the relationship between mother and daughter and friends. Max’s time with her mother was cut short, and her attempt to make up for it with Nancy’s character are bittersweet as the younger of the two finds herself in the role of “older and wiser” protector. Her refusal to let her mom go again, to let her die a second time, is given emotional weight far beyond the genre’s usual limits, and it adds enormously to the film.

Of course very little of this would work if the cast wasn’t talented enough to sell it. Farmiga and Akerman are the film’s heart and soul, and while the former is straight man to much of the humor she manages her share of well-delivered funny bits too. Most of the laughs though come from DeVine and Thomas Middleditch (as Max’s horror-loving friend) who seem to constantly be riffing outside of the script (seemingly confirmed during the end-credits bloopers). Equally strong are Alia Shawkat and Nina Dobrev as Max’s current and past best friends and Angela Trimbur who, along with strong comic abilities in general, also gives us one of the best solo dance sequences ever captured on film.

The Final Girls is a fun mash-up of then and now, and any slasher fan should find themselves enamored with its nostalgic touches, new tweaks and pure enthusiasm. That said, for a movie so in love with the genre, it’s curiously and unfortunately aimed at a PG-13 rating. It’s a near-bloodless affair, devoid of nudity and anything resembling gore, and in light of the subject matter and intent it feels very much like a marketing decision as opposed to a creative one.

The Upside: Very funny and often smart; genuine heart at its core; strong cast; shows real love for the genre

The Downside: Some missteps in its own rules; oddly PG-13 for the subject matter

Editor’s note: Our review of The Final Girls originally ran during SXSW 2015, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited release.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.