The concept of the “Final Girl” has been integral to the slasher subset of horror for decades now. It’s a fascinating concept that compliments an already surprisingly structured area of film. Basically the term refers to the idea of the sole survivor of these bloodbaths inexplicably ending up being a ravaged woman in peril who goes on to live another day. It’s an idea that originally was used to help mass produce a formulaic genre, but recently there’s been a renewed interest in the concept, with the films Final Girl, The Final Girls, and here, Benjamin R. Moody’ debut feature, Last Girl Standing all coincidentally coming out this year and being fascinated with subverting the trope to some length.
Last Girl Standing cleverly starts off by showing us the end of the slasher movie that Camryn (Akasha Villalobos) manages to crawl out of alive. It’s the perfect conclusion to a film that we don’t see, but get all the salient details of in a terribly succinct introduction, right down to the killer wearing some sort of twisted “Leatherface meets Jason” mask (with a healthy dose of Hannibal’s nightmare stag thrown in for good measure). It’s perfect. It knows exactly what it’s doing. And moving forward from this point, you have an optimistic feeling of where all of this might be heading, with it having already displayed a reflexive knowledge of the form; almost as well as Scream does, even (although here the characters are painfully unaware of the ways they’re shaking up the genre). This feeling is present right down to the shot of Camryn getting rescued that feels like it could be straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s conclusion. You feel like you’re in good hands here, which is a crucial thing for a film of this nature
The film’s goal then becomes showing you Camryn’s life after the massacre and if there can be a happily ever after. Unsurprisingly Camryn is plagued with PTSD pretty badly, which seems like it would be par for the course for any horror film’s epilogue. Even if nothing ended up happening to Camryn in Last Girl Standing, just watching her cope with this stress as she tries to scrape back together some semblance of a life–her own baggage being her biggest enemy here—is a deeply compelling story. It’s an internal horror film much more than it is an external one.
In this sense, much of the point of the film is concerned with whether Camryn is actually being terrorized again by her former slasher (or a copycat), or if it’s all just in her head. This is a decent enough premise, even if it’s one that’s been done before in a stronger context. In fact, much of Last Girl Standing’s novelty that it shows you “what happens to the survivor of a slasher film after the slasher film” ends up feeling more like you’re just watching a sequel to a film that you only saw the trailer for. There are a more than a few scenes that play deeply similar to set pieces out of Scream 2 for instance, an actual sequel that naturally explores what happens after the massacre (not to mention Psycho II, an underrated take on the same idea as well). More than anything the feeling that Last Girl Standing gave me was that I was seeing this pseudo-sequel to a film that didn’t exist and I was robbed of details and motivations accordingly.
As we move through the film with Camryn, every step that she takes toward normalcy sees her again being struck by some encounter with her victimizer. Each of these scenes are exhilarating, but they largely begin to feel the same and become repetitive and predictable rather quickly. A different take on them would have justified their presence more, rather than them feeling like they’re padding out a run time. There are so many ways that Camryn could be maybe-stalked and yet the same routes continue to be gone down.
A lot of Last Girl Standing works, but it feels like it’s all setup and once it finally does reveal its true nature, it ends. The film packs a ton into the final fifteen minutes, and maybe they would have been better off if they let this material breathe throughout the course of the film instead. Who knows, it certainly charges the ending in a way that works for it.
In the same vein, the murder scenes are all particularly visceral (there’s no delicate way to kill someone with antlers, I suppose), focusing on aspects like the sound design or the monotony of them as a means of further cracking Camryn’s psyche. This is a welcome approach for the film, albeit one that isn’t fully developed. It’s just nice to see different aspect of attacks being focused on rather than the norm.
One of the more interesting ideas put forth from Last Girl Standing is that the survivors and heroes of these horror films getting caught up in loop and trapped in a cycle that they’re doomed to repeat until the universe eventually allows it to bend (or box office sales hit a level of diminishing returns). The thing is, even when that happens, there’s always going to be one more last girl standing. It’s a Möbius strip of a concept, and even if Camryn’s story is to end here, who’s to say that it won’t continue on through someone else? That is what Last Girl Standing is all about, even if the assembling of that message is a little messy.
After all of this is taken into consideration, the answer of what happens to the last girl standing after the credits roll is appropriately chilling. Even if the film meanders and isn’t wholly original, the final message is a disturbing one and the film goes out on a powerful note. You’ll likely think twice about the next heroine you see surviving the slaughter in a horror film.
You know what’s in store for them, after all.