What I'm Watching: Final Girls
Since Trisk is currently taking a look at a summer long series of camp slasher movies, I figured this would be a great time to finally do a review of Final Girls. Not to be confused with Final GIRL, or LAST Girl...lots of finality and girls 'round these parts, but that's no surprise.
ANYways, Final Girls starts off a year after Max's mother dies in a tragic accident, where she gets dragged to a film festival where they are celebrating her mom's turn as an 80s scream queen in the slasher cult classic, Camp Bloodbath.
Things go wrong pretty quickly when a Rube Goldbergian series of events lead to a fire raging through the theatre. Max shows early heroic tendencies and grabs a prop machete from the movie, using it to slice through the screen so her and her friends can escape.
Magically, this leads to them actually becoming a part of Camp Bloodbath. Because reasons. But that's the plot, and so I'm just gonna roll with this. They quickly meet the very 80s characters, including Max's mom when she was around her own age. Things go even wronger when they accidentally set off events that lead to the death of the movie's final girl, short circuiting the movie's ending. Modern sensibilities and movie knowledge have to be brought to the fore to save the day.
This could have just been a fun romp mixing the real world and movie tropes, but Final Girls manages to be something more than that. The genre bending and use of outside knowledge is a LOT of fun though, and that is the core of the movie.
Taissa Farmiga is possibly too good for this movie. She is a stunning actress, and her sadness, her longing when she sees her mom on the screen is heartwrenching and perfect. It only gets worse (and thus better!) when she sees her once they're in the movie.
There is of course the movie geek and fan of the movie who figures things out pretty quickly, and his interactions with movie tropes and the killer are spot on. For as long as he lasts. *cough* No real spoilers, since in a slasher movie, the only survivor is the titular Final Girl, but y'know...
In fact, all the playing with tropes and storytelling are great, especially when they break the movie's narrative and have to find a way to get things back on track. They're stuck in a movie and have to play by the rules, or they'll die, or worse, be stuck in an endless groundhog day nightmare. But they also KNOW those rules better than anyone, they know the script of the movie even, and know how to use the rules and how to bend them without breaking things further.
I love the style of the movie. It starts out very real world, as it should, although even those sequences have a heightened state of reality, I think. But then things get very technicolour once they're stuck in Camp Bloodbath, which is perfect, and highlights the costuming and bright colours all the more. It is so very 80s, and yet I feel it misses the mark. It tries SO hard, it just doesn't feel quite right. Especially the acting. The humour feels so forced sometims but, it brings a lot of laughs, so I forgive it. Also, the movie within the movie is supposed to be badly written.
I quite honestly have no idea how they pull off making Malin Akerman believable as Max's mom, and also her contemporary in the movie, but that's just another plus for the movie.
Then there's the killer, Billy. Oh, Billy. He is so clearly a rip o...homage to Jason. But if you're gonna do a pastiche love letter to camp slashers, you go for the source. The mask is a little uninspiring, and is nowhere near as cool or simple as the hockey mask. But he works as the unstoppable killer. I really REALLY wanted him to get clued in, I wanted him to become genre savvy, and start breaking the rules himself. I wanted to see Billy hear all about how he dies, and would be all "FUCK THAT SHIT" and work to make sure it doesn't happen. How great would it have been if he heard "Paula kills Billy in the final reel!" and then actively goes and kills the girl, to make sure that doesn't happen?? I don't hold it against the movie that it didn't do what *I* wanted it to do, but there were some missed opportunities they could've had a lot of fun with.
There are so many little touches to the movie I love, and most of them are whenever the people from the real world have to interact with movie logic and style - from the movie restarting, to thinking they're safe because they're not part of Billy's script, and how they react to suddenly being trapped in a black and white flashback, and even tripping over subtitles. And when they enter slow motion, it's somehow hilarious AND terrifying. That's a tough line to dance on, and the movie succeeds more than fails when trying to balance the humour and horror.
The cinematography is great. There are some downright inventive shots, some great oners, although it feels out of place in what should be an 80s love letter. It's the influence of the gang from the modern age, and like I said, it looks great, but feels...off. The movie fights against itself at times, struggling to be so very 80s, while also using techniques we know now.
Along that same note, the final fight is the most epic thing in a slasher movie, and more epic than anything ever even attempted in the 80s. But it's awesome, and even if it's modern in its epicness, it's so satisfying. I also don't quite understand the plot logic of Max suddenly being empowered and instantly recovering from seeming death in an instant to kick that much ass.
The movie somehow manages to draw a connection between Max getting closure with her mother's death, with horror tropes and being a final girl. The idea shouldn't work, but it somehow does. It brings a lot of heart to the story, making it more than just a movie about movies, and is a standout of the script, as well as Malin and Taissa's acting skills to making that work.
Of course, the movie handily defuses all my complaints by starting right off by admitting that "Camp Bloodbath" is a badly written 80s movie with silly characters. It doesn't make sense, it has plot holes, and the acting is horrible. As it should be, for an 80s slasher movie! And they are wise in rooting the modern day characters in reality. It both contrasts just how stilted the 80sness of it all is, and gives us some normal characters to latch onto, and point out just how bad Camp Bloodbath is.
Despite my complaints, the movie succeeds where it needs to, and it is pure FUN. There's a lot of references, nods to other movies, and it has a lot of humour, and more importantly a TON of heart. It may be silly, but it's heart is in the right place, and it's got a stuff to say on grief and death, even though a lot of that might be lost or hidden under the silliness.
It's not perfect, but The Final Girls has a fun cast, the 80s characters are very 80s, and it's a fun, bloody, entertaining way to kill 90 minutes, and even slips in some twists and turns along the way. I easily recommend it to fans of 80s slashers, and modern day horror fans. It might not be great cinema, but what movies are around here? Definitely worth watching.