Final Girl – not to be confused with Todd Strauss-Schulson’s HILARIOUS The Final Girls) – is a “cool” movie. Like, swanky-murderers-who-act-like-psychotic-Rat-Pack-members “cool.” But it’s not very sensible, nor does it care about being a nonsensical horror-stereotype-busting acid trip. Tyler Shields is a devilishly creative filmmaker, and there’s a certain amount of respect earned through this wicked battle of the sexes, but as a storyteller, Shields is more erratic than a scat rapper. With that said, the question morphs from “Is Final Girl an enjoyable movie?” into “Do you value aesthetics over substance?” Narration versus cinematic anarchy – take your pick!
Abigail Breslin plays an orphaned girl named Veronica, Shields’ titular “final girl.” After the death of her parents, she’s taken in by a man named William (Wes Bentley), who trains her to be a female assassin with a specific mission. William tells her about a group of men who kill innocent young girls for sport, and reveals that she’s to infiltrate their hunting ritual as a fresh target. Immediately after she completes her training, Veronica finds herself being invited into the woods by the group’s leader, Jameson (Alexander Ludwig), and after some “harmless” banter, the real games begin. These boys think they have another easy victim in Veronica, but once she starts fighting back, the odds slowly swing in the damsel’s favor – with a little help from her trippy drug serum.
That’s it. That’s Final Girl. Veronica is trained, she meets a group of womanizing pretty-boys, and she dispatches them one by one (all without William’s help). We don’t really know why Veronica is selected to be a deadly female warrior, or why William can’t do his own dirty work, or even why Jameson’s quartet loves murdering helpless women. It’s almost like I Spit On Your Grave without the sexual abuse, delivering the action without any of the established backstory. Who needs a story when you have Abigail Breslin kicking ass, though? (Depending on who you are, that could be a rhetorical question).
In this scenario, Breslin embodies a more grounded version of Hit-Girl, and Bentley portrays her less-Cagetastic Big Daddy. She plays the part well, transforming from a blonde-haired goodie-goodie into an ax-wielding reaper, but Breslin seems a tad overmatched when locked in a battle of fisticuffs with the hulking Ludwig. We’re to believe that Veronica is an unstoppable pseudo-ninja who can outwit muscular, athletic men by using her tactical expertise, but you’re seriously telling me that Abigail Breslin can take a punch from Alexander Ludwig and NOT get cold-clocked? Oh, that’s right – everyone knows cinematic montages magically transform you into a superhero of sorts! Ms. Breslin throws a few serious hooks, earns her stripes as a badass, and carries out her mission with enough intensity to impress on an action heroine level (believably or not).
Jameson’s boys are a fun bunch to watch, as they seem plucked out of The Great Gatsby with their slicked hair and stretchy suspenders. Ludwig utilizes his commanding alpha presence, much like you’d expect, but Logan Huffman finds the most success as the cartoonishly over-exaggerated Danny. He’s wacky, outlandish, and exploding with psychotic energy, and even though he probably would find a better fit in some Looney Tunes special, Huffman channels exactly the kind of “gangster” Shields is looking for. If grounded performances are what you’re looking for, Final Girl will severely disappoint.
Then again, some of the best character moments occur during intensified hallucinations that evoke their deepest fears, yet never explain why. For example: Danny is afraid of panda heads and dapper suits? Infidelity and mommy issues serve as more acceptable paranoias for his buddies, but again, Shields never expands upon the idea of confronting your deepest fears besides using them as a convenient weapon. These alternate realities are convenient devices and nothing more. They’re meticulously shot with an illuminating eye that brings the deadly forest to life, showcasing spotlights and other non-nature sources of light, but they’re still reasonless devices nonetheless. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll as the same question again – can you permit style with such little substance?
In the end, Shields’ invigorating “je ne sais quoi” does provide a fresh sense of direction – but his storytelling leaves much to be desired. The fact of the matter is that we’ve seen such revenge dynamics before, and minor alterations to setting and personality aren’t enough to favorably present Final Girl in a brand new light (like The Final Girls manages to do). Abigail Breslin does her best Kick-Ass imitation alongside Wes Bentley, but the sparks of ingenuity never seem to ignite a larger, more breathtaking flame. It’s horror satire in its basest form, told through the distorted lens of an acid-dropping, period-confused feminist obsessed with the 50s. Take that sentence for what it is, and make your viewing decision wisely.
Tyler Shields is an incredibly creative visionary, yet Final Girl is nothing but revenge cinema in its basest form (despite the film's zany personality).