When I first saw the trailer for THE FINAL GIRLS, I was excited but cautiously optimistic. I’m a sucker for films that deconstruct the Horror genre (e.g. CABIN IN THE WOODS, BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON, TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL), but I was on the fence about this particular movie.
That’s mainly because I’ve just been burned too many times by critically praised genre films in recent years. But my curiosity had to be sated, so when the opportunity arose to get a peek at THE FINAL GIRLS, I leaped at the chance!
Three years after the death of cult movie actress Amanda Cartwright (Malin Akerman), her daughter Max (Taissa Farmiga) attends a screening of the late actress’ most popular film: CAMP BLOODBATH (to be followed by a screening of its sequel, CAMP BLOODBATH 2: CRUEL SUMMER). Soon after the film begins, the theater accidentally becomes a raging inferno! (What theater allows patrons to smoke in this day and age?!)
Max and her friends escape by slicing their way through the movie screen, and soon discover that they have somehow become trapped within the movie itself! Surrounded by clueless counselors (whose only purpose is to have sex and die upon the machete blade of a Jason Voorhees clone named Billy Murphy), Max and company have to figure out a way to survive all the way to the film’s climax, and escape back to the real world!
THE FINAL GIRLS was a very pleasant surprise; it truly is “The Feel Good Horror Movie of the Year!” Director Todd Strauss-Schulson has crafted a great little film, complete with likable characters, great 80s tunes (including “Bette Davis Eyes,” “Mickey,” and “Cruel Summer”), and some very cool camerawork. Seriously, there are some wonderfully creative shots in this movie that hearken back to the early days of Sam Raimi. I wouldn’t be too surprised to discover that Schulson was a big EVIL DEAD fan.
The cast in this movie is fantastic, with everyone turning in a great performance. Malin Akerman is perfect as “Nancy,” and she plays so well off of Taissa Farmiga’s Max. This is very important because their relationship is the crux of this film. Max has never quite gotten over losing her mother, and now finds herself paired with Amanda Cartwright’s cinematic clone.
Naturally Max is in shock when they first meet, but she soon implements a plan to protect Nancy. Max believes that the two of them can live happily ever after once CAMP BLOODBATH’s antagonist is defeated. Maybe not as mother and daughter, but something akin to that. Unfortunately, Max’s plans quickly unravel when the scenario dictates that she must become “the final girl” to defeat the dreaded Billy Murphy.
Speaking of which, Billy is an unapologetic rip-off of FRIDAY THE 13TH’s Jason Voorhees. Though he lacks the trademark hockey mask, this silent slasher (played by stunt performer Dan B. Norris) is bald, deformed, and armed with a machete. Plus he always appears right after this film’s version of “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” is heard. While I was initially shocked by all of this, it turns out that Billy Murphy’s design is apparently acceptable under parody law.
And while I loved the flashback that reveals Billy’s origins (he was horribly burned in a cruel prank gone wrong, much like Cropsy), it seems like a waste to have spent any time building a sympathetic villain. I feel that the director and writers (M.A. Fortin and Josh John Miller) missed a cool opportunity to explore Billy Murphy’s psyche, and could have made him more than an unstoppable machete-wielding juggernaut.
At the very least, they could have tossed in a scene where someone tries to reason with Billy, or maybe even use some psychology against him. (Much like Amy Steel’s Ginny did to Jason in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2.) But hey, maybe this is a route that can be explored in a sequel if THE FINAL GIRLS is as well-received as I think it will be.
The remaining characters in the film are all a lot of fun: Adam DeVine is entertaining as an idiotic, sex-crazed jock named Kurt. Nina Dobrev is perfect as bitchy Vicki, Alia Shawkat is great as Max’s sarcastic best friend Gertie, and Thomas Middleditch nails his role as Gertie’s horror-obsessed stepbrother Duncan.
Angela Trimbur steals the show with her hilariously enthusiastic portrayal of the adorably empty-headed Tina. Her insane, Adderall-fueled striptease to Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” (designed to lure Billy Murphy out into the open) had me cracking up! It’s such an enjoyably over-the-top sequence, that’s sure to be a real crowdpleaser.
And I’d be remiss if I left out Alexander Ludwig and Tory N. Thompson who play Chris and Blake respectively. Chris is Max’s love interest, and well… he’s pretty dull. (i.e. Severely normal.) But I think that was done on purpose, so that average viewers would have someone they can identify with. Blake is the “token black guy” of the group, but surprisingly, no effort is made to point this out. That’s probably because he is (thankfully) not an offensive stereotype.
In the end, I really enjoyed THE FINAL GIRLS, and I honestly don’t have any major complaints about it. While I would have liked to see a little T&A and some gore, the lack of either doesn’t hurt the movie in any way. Schulson’s film may be light on scares, but it packs an emotional punch and is highly rewatchable. It’s got a lot of heart, and is populated by characters that you will become emotionally invested in.
THE FINAL GIRLS is easily one of the best films I have seen this year. It’s a loving spoof of slasher cinema that deserves to be embraced by Horror fans. I highly recommend this movie, and I’m happy to give it a rating of: