I saw the trailer for The Final Girls a while back and thought it looked interesting. The trailer let me know the essentials – some teens are magically transported into a Friday the 13th-esque slasher film called “Camp Bloodbath” and they have to figure out a way to get back home. I definitely saw some potential for loving pokes at the tropes of our beloved film genre. And Thomas Middleditch would be playing to his acting strengths with a nerdy, socially inept character obsessed with “Camp Bloodbath”. Nice. So I picked it up and watched it. Now you get to read about my experience!
Max’s mom is not having much luck landing decent acting jobs because she’s been pigeonholed as “that girl from Camp Bloodbath”. Max is trying to manage her mom’s life while her mom behaves like an irresponsible teenager (Max is a teenage girl by the way. played by Taissa Farmiga from “American Horror Story”). Twist! Then they get in a car accident and mom dies. Much later, Max is talked into making an appearance (in a rather unbelievable way) at a double-feature of “Camp Bloodbath” and “Camp Bloodbath 2: Cruel Summer” as a special guest. In the first few minutes of the film, a guy drops a bottle of booze and another guy drops the cherry off of his blunt (SMOKING IN THE GODDAMN THEATER), igniting a huge fire that traps everyone in the theater. Max and her band of friends – the cute jock, the socially inept nerd, the frenemy (ugh. i’m sorry you have to read that word), and the best friend – grab some cosplayer’s (REAL FUCKING) machete and slice a hole through the screen in a bid to escape certain death. Cut to: they find themselves inside of the movie. And it repeats itself until they follow along with the story/characters. So they do. People die. They intervene to fight Billy, the Jason Voorhees analog. People still die. Until, ultimately, it comes down to… the final girls!
My synopsis is admittedly pretty snarky, but the film isn’t terrible. Not terribly terrible anyway. There is some fun to be had. Unfortunately, most of the fun is lost once the film shifts from goofy comedy to earnest slasher with a teen girl trying to protect her (once-dead) mom from inevitably being hacked to death. Admittedly, the tone is set early on with the car accident but I thought that might have just been a setup for Max to reunite with her mom and kick some ass once the magical film entry happened. Maybe expectations are the problem. I expected (as I mentioned above) some fun horror film references/send-ups (ala Slither perhaps) but I got characters pointing out hackneyed tropes in 80s slashers as they employ them. And the only direct reference to 80s horror seems to be the title card which looks a helluva lot like the card from John Carpenter’s The Thing (which is technically from 1951). Then there was the “Spring break forever!” line that I can only assume is a reference to Spring Breakers since the film-within-a-film is set during summer break. To get to the point: my expectations were either off-base or just not met. I hate to be too harsh. There was some good in the film. The young actors looked like they were having a lot of fun with their roles. Adam Devine was funny playing another Adam DeMamp. The whole exposed breasts/bras draw Billy out of the woods thing was funny (the first time). And there were some very cool shots – ie: long shot of Billy ablaze and jumping from a second story window and a long shot of Max’s mom running at Billy in the pre-dawn lightning storm light. But then there were some straight up cringe-worthy shots – ie: the exaggerated/protracted gimbal/crane shots swooping/spinning around the characters for example. Ultimately, this is a concept film that seems unclear on the concept. Its own internal logic is fluid (the kids must conform to the storyline, but then it is accepted that a new final girl will do as long as she’s a virgin but it can’t be virgin mom because ???). And I’m ok with magical events but I like at least a tiny bit of effort put into the explanation. Did walking through a burning screen put them in the film? If they die in the film, will they die in real life? CAN they die in the film? What about the dozens of other people trapped in the theater? Did they just die? Yikes.
THE FINAL CUT: The Final Girls promises a lot but fails to fully deliver the fun. As a comedy, it has a few bright spots. As a horror film it is stylish, but ultimately it offers nothing new.
Bonus: I’d like to address the theater scene and theatergoer characters specifically. They were the fucking worst. I’ve been to plenty of horror events like the one in The Final Girls, and, sure, you get tourists in there who text/laugh at inappropriate moments/talk during films, but I would personally lead a public tarring and feathering if somebody lit up a blunt during a film. This isn’t a drive-in! Take that shit outside, dumbass! (i might lose any cool cred i had for that but there’s a time and a place, right?)