What I'm Watching: Final Girl
Last Girls, Final Girls, Abigail Breslin here, Breslin there...I almost have running themes in the reviews this month that jump from movie to movie to movie, and it's all mostly by accident and not by design.
The plot of Final Girl surrounds William, a man who has gone through an unspecified tragedy, although it seems to involve the loss of his wife at the hands of four guys who like to regularly take girls out into the woods and hunt them for sport, all while dressed up in tuxes.
William finds a girl, Veronica (Breslin), when she's very young, and begins training her to one day send into the fray, be picked up by these guys, and have his revenge on them through her.
I really like this idea for a plot, and in fact watched a Japanese influenced movie just the other day that dealt with much of the same ideas, in a much more over the top, violent, and bloody manner, but I digress. It's a good twist on the revenge film, and I like using people's pathology against them, knowing what their Type is, and using that as a means to get revenge.
"Wouldn't you like to play a game?"
There are a few issues lurking around with plot logic though, and while I'll let a lot of things slide for the sake of story, the more I think about it, the more things don't quite add up. When did William's wife die? Veronica LOOKS like a little kid when she's plucked out for her training, and the four guys don't look THAT old, maybe college age to Veronica's high schoolish age. What, did they kill Will's wife when they were 13 or something? Or was the loss of his wife a completely *separate* incident that inspired him to go, "You know what, I'm gonna find a random girl, go all Batman and Robin with her, and use her to stop guys like the one(s) that killed my wife!"
I know, I really shouldn't be thinking about this stuff, but things just don't add up for me, and it's bugging me, and it takes away from an otherwise fun movie.
The four guys are quite the characters. You gotta make them interesting, since they're your antagonists, and they do a fairly decent job. Only one or two really stand out, but having those be really over the top let the others be a bit more normal and real, making for nice variety. They ride that perfect line between charming and creepy. Shame Veronica kills the most interesting and biggest scenery chewer one first...
One of the best things though, is how Veronica plays them all the way to the beginning of the chase. They have zero idea she's anything other than their latest blonde victim, until the hunted becomes the hunter. I love it. Turning tropes around like that, well, you should know by now that's totally my thing. And having a girl axing her way through these douches is so cathartic after some other movies.
"You are one interesting girl."
Final Girl does take a brief stumble when a girlfriend subplot with one of the tuxedoed hunters appears, and it feels poorly developed and a diversion. It DOES serve to give one of the guys some character, but pads the plot a bit in the third act. Fortunately it turns out to be just a hallucination thanks to the drugged booze Veronica slipped the guys, and since it's a manifestation of his worst fear, it works better in hindsight than at first glance.
It all comes to a head when Veronica and the last of the douches faceoff in a little quid pro quo at the end that answers some minor questions, but also serves as a good break from all the violence while not feeling like the plot has ground to a complete halt. Even if it has, for all intents and purposes.
The movie does a good job with callbacks at the end, although they set up something with a gun towards the start of the movie that never paid off to my satisfaction. They unChekoved their own Chekoving...
I really wish there had been a little more background on Wes's character. We get the barest minimum required to know why he's trained Veronica to do this, but just barely. Some more depth there would have been appreciated, and would've been better than some other moments the movie does give us.
A lot of the strength lies with the cast, and it plays well on Breslin's more innocent perceived persona, at least on the four guys. The audience is in on it from the start. I almost wonder how this movie would've gone if we were on the side of the guys for most of the movie, and found out when they did that Veronica was a bad-ass. I can quite honestly see merit in both versions of the storym and like the version we got, but there's another way to go with this, clearly.
The phrase Final Girl is well known amongst horror fans as the last survivor in a horror movie to finally face the monster, and if you're going to name a movie with that catchphrase, you really need to do something other than what they did hear. She's really the ONLY girl being hunted by four guys. Sure, there's others in their abducting and killing history, and the title becomes a more literal take of her being the final girl they'll take into the woods, but when you play on horror tropes with names and phrases, you expect something more than this.
Also, the movie feels like it's trying to say something more about horror tropes, where we all know a large chunk of movies have been very bad to female characters, and this movie does the opposite, by having the girl hunt the guys. It feels like they think they're being clever here, but there's two problems with this. First, this isn't THAT revolutionary. It's the whole point of Buffy the series, and the movie, and the whole Final Girl trope is all *about* having the girl take down the monster. Second of all, Veronica is STILL a victim, at the end of the day. William took this tiny, innocent *child*, took away what was left of her childhood, and molded her into a living weapon to point and shoot like a flesh and blood gun. Her training was not fun, and that's just what we see of it. She may have had the power over the killers, but what William does to her is pretty bad too.
But, most of my issues with the movie are of a more meta nature. The story as present is pretty solid, although it's not your typical movie. It's more a character piece with a lot of talking, that has a killer third act where the fun really begins. Overall, Final Girl is a good inversion on the horror genre by way of the revenge quest genre, more than it is inverting the power between male and female characters, and with just a few minor issues to the narrative.
This is also a first time movie for director Tyler Shields, known largely for his photography, and he does a good job of things. The movie is definitely well shot, with clear style, and while the constant lights blasting through the woods don't make a lick of logical *sense* they DO give the movie this haunting look, and lets them play with backlighting a lot. Sure, it's illogical, but man does it look *cool*. And I am down for a little style over sense, most days. I definitely look forward to see what Shields does in the future.
Final Girl is definitely worth seeing, just to see Breslin grow beyond the cute, innocent girl, and for some colourful, wacky killers.