The Final Girls Review [SXSW 2015]


The Final Girls is one of those films that’s so hard to classify, because it’s got a little something for everyone. First and foremost, horror fans are going to have a blast with M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller’s super-self-referential screenplay that captures genre geekdom and pokes fun at EVERY 80s horror cliche imaginable. Mainstream audiences aren’t left out of the fun, though, as a hilarious cast of talented actors put comedy first, while gory kill-sequences are kept at an acceptable minimum.

And of course, we can’t forget about the true cinema fans, as director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s killer attention to ambitious detail somehow comes together like an insanely metaphysical nightmare that transcends so many wild and crazy levels. Trust me, you’ve never seen a slasher film like The Final Girls, and that’s what makes this movie such a riotous take on horror norms gone sexily wrong.

Taissa Farmiga stars as Max, the daughter of a famous scream queen played by Malin Akerman. Three years after her mother’s death, Max is asked to attend a double feature of the campground horror franchise her mother starred in. She begrudgingly accepts, because her best friend Gertie’s (Alia Shawkat) stepbrother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch) offers to do her classics homework for the rest of the year. Max gets a nice surprise when local heartthrob Chris (Alexander Ludwig) shows up to keep her company though, which is counterbalanced when the school’s Queen Bitch, Vickie (Nina Dobrev), shows up as well.

Either way, social issues end up being the least of the group’s problems when a fire erupts and they’re forced to escape by cutting through the movie screen. Too bad their plan backfires, and instead of leading them to safety, their new path plants them directly into the movie they were just watching. This sets off a chain of events that only make sense in the world of Camp Blue Finch, as it’s up to the final girl to kill an urban legend named Billie in order to escape. Can Max and her friends rewrite the script and find their way back home?

Even though The Final Girls never pushes for scares, it’s still a dream movie for horror fans because of the ripe exploitation, brilliant riffage off of everyone’s favorite slasher flicks, and the clever remastering of so many old-school production values. Think of it like VH1’s “I Love The 80s” for horror fans. We’re transported back to a bygone era when telephones had wires and blow-outs were an approvable hairstyle, but more importantly, we’re reminded of horror’s most ridiculous rules.

There’s a simple law to most 80s horror, which is if you take off your top, you’re about to die. Sex equals death in slasher flicks, and the screenplay utilizes every opportunity to play around with such a golden rule. The minute someone strips off their overgarments, a psycho killer emerges (an ALMOST Jason Voorhees) who immediately increases his body count. It’s such a simple concept, but thank to Strauss-Schulson’s infectiously hilarious execution, characters oversell each hormone-driven moment in the best of ways. 80s horror was never known for lyrical writing, and thankfully, The Final Girls embraces every gooey bit of cheese.

The female-driven cast is DYNAMITE, from lead actress Taissa Farmiga down to Angela Trimbur’s ditzy slutasaurus (or ditziest slut, I should say). Between Malin Akerman and Farmiga, the whole “final girl” arc bounces back and forth, and Strauss-Schulson always finds a way to promote female strength in their actions (along with the remaining cast). Nina Dobrev creates a snotty brat we somehow still end up adoring, Alia Shawkat remains as wittily cute as ever, but Trimbur leaves the longest-lasting impression thanks to one of the greatest stripteases in horror movie history.

To lure in the film’s menacing killer, it’s Tina’s (Trimbur) job to flash her boobs and call the lumbering beast – which she EMPHATICALLY does to the tune of Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.” The energy Trimbur exerts creates what could be one of the funniest cinematic moments of 2015, mainly because she’s trying to be sensual while stripping off a life preserver and oven mits. Trust me, you don’t want me to explain why, it’s better left discovered.

As for the guys, there’s more straight stereotyping at play. Alexander Ludwig gets to be the hunky dude who has a thing for Max’s sweet virginity, and he’s everything that a rugged leading man needs to be in this situation. Adam Devine uses his broish Workaholics vibe to craft a pervertedly entertaining horror genre horndog, Thomas Middleditch embodies the most fanatical horror fan imaginable, and Tory N. Thompson fills that random background role who’s granted, like, two proper scenes of screen time. Every cast member here is firing on all cylinders.

The entire group of counselors and movie-crashers comes together with an enviable amount of chemistry, and each moment somehow finds ways to trump the last. There’s nothing better than some meta-banter between a fabricated 80s jock (Devine) and one of his biggest fans (Middleditch), which is a collision course of mind-bending proportions – much like the entire film.

Strauss-Schulson’s mind must be a beautiful thing, because The Final Girls glistens in a sparkly, creative light that’s so vibrantly appealing. Everything is saturated in this olden feel of early horror films, yet the crisp quality and outstanding production designs are captured in the clean light of current technology. Colors pop off the screen, bringing to life minute details like woodland flowers and lively counselor uniforms, but even during some of the darker scenes, settings turn into fantasy worlds that only cinema can create. There’s an absolutely gorgeous sequence at the end involving Malin Akerman’s character and the film’s killer that takes place in a lush, grassy field, set against thunderous lightning clouds that spew bits of purple electricity. With such radiant colors playing off one another, Strauss-Schulson’s vision comes to life like a work of art, and even though most of the film showcases such tantalizing examples of intricate wonder, Akerman’s showdown provides the perfect snapshot of a young, talented filmmaker whose passion is poured into every single frame.

The Final Girls is an experience not to be missed, whether you’re a horror fan or not. Us slasher-loving-miscreants often get a bad rap for only liking movies where helpless woman get gored by a vile creature, but we like to laugh a little bit too! It’s not all blood and guts, which is why gorehounds will end up laughing themselves to death as real people find themselves saturated in a colorblind flashback filter. Additional text cards, rolling credits, eventual sequels – it’s all there! The Final Girls is a special victory that unites horror fans with scardy-cats in a bloody embrace of broken bones and unavoidable laughing fits, and asserts itself as one of the most unique horror comedies in quite some time.

The Final Girls Review [SXSW 2015]

The Finals Girls is a hilarious treat that pays proper respect to an era of horror that's beloved for its goofy cheesiness, yet Todd Strauss-Schulson's film never feels cheap, shoddy or weak. Quite the opposite, in fact.