Horror parodies and deconstructions only work if the filmmaker has a genuine passion and deep knowledge of the genre. If those elements aren’t there, the film typically falls flat on its face. Such is not the case with Todd Strauss-Schulson’s hysterical and immensely heartfelt The Final Girls. Both a searing comedy and clever deconstruction of horror, Strauss-Schulson’s film brought the goddamn house down at its Saturday night screening at the Stanley Film Festival. We were all expecting a horror comedy, but a lot of us weren’t expecting one with such an enormous pumping heart at its core. Or with such a sidesplitting striptease.
The Final Girls is really something special as it manages to pull of its comedic and emotional elements with finesse. For every laugh you belt out you may also shed a tear as well, as Strauss-Schulson explores the trappings of nostalgia and grief and if one can ever truly move on from tragedy.
Max (Taissa Farmiga) can’t live down the ‘80s camp slasher Camp Bloodbath. Her mother Nancy (Malin Akerman) starred in the film, which, like many of its ilk, has developed a cult following not so much for its cinematic prowess as its hammy acting, absurd dialogue, and elaborate kills. For Max, it’s not just a bad movie. It’s a burning reminder that her mom died in a horrific accident before she could really let her know how much she loved her.
Begrudgingly, Max agrees to attend a screening of the film with her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat) and her enthusiastic horror nerd stepbrother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch). Max doesn’t really want to go but her hunky crush Chris (Alexander Ludwig) says he’ll be there. Chris’ obnoxiously clingy ex Vicki (Nina Dobrev) tags along, but hell, Max won’t let it ruin her night.
There’s a really amazing part early on when Max is at the screening and her eyes turn warm as she sees her mother’s beauty and grace shine off the screen. You can see how much the sight affects her. It’s such a beautiful moment and the first sign that The Final Girls is interested in more than just clever in-jokes and references. This bitch is going for the heartstrings too.
A freak accident causes the theater to catch fire and in a frantic attempt to escape, Max leads her crew through the movie screen only to find that by doing so they’ve literally entered Camp Bloodbath. How Strauss-Schulson gradually reveals to the characters that they’re in the movie is hilarious and as they spend more time there, they slowly learn the rules of the silver screen dimension and develop a plan to get back to the real world.
Then there’s the matter of Nancy. Max’s knees nearly give out seeing her mother in all her youthful glory and she’s now confronted not only with her existing grief, but also with the inevitability that she’s going to have to lose her mother all over again. It’s an emotionally crushing scenario that Max refuses to accept. So she sets to change the rules of the game, but at what cost?
The Final Girls cast is on point across the board, especially Farmiga and Akerman. They make a solid mother-daughter team and the scenes they share together are really something wonderful. Their relationship is a believable one that helps strengthen the film’s later emotional moments. It also helps anchor the film in the face of its more ridiculous characters, like Adam DeVine’s hyper-macho walking erection that spouts an ever flowing stream of boob jokes and makes sure to mention his biceps every chance he gets.
The Final Girls faultlessly walks the line between horror and comedy and does so with a wealth of genuine emotion and heart. Like Camp Bloodbath, there’s a massive following in this film’s future. But unlike the benchmark bad-good film of Nancy’s career, The Final Girls is just damn good.