Combining the meta-horror of Scream and the jumping-through-the-screen plot of Pleasantville, Todd Strauss-Schulson‘s The Final Girls offers an inventive and playful send-up of 1980s slashers. The Final Girls also manages to undercut horror’s emphasis on sexuality by focusing on a touching mother/daughter story. In a way, it also subverts some of the images of evil mothers in horror, such as Margaret White from Carrie.
The teenage girl Max (Taissa Farmiga) misses her mother Amanda (Malin Ackerman) who died tragically in a car accident. Amanda was an actress famous for her role in the cult 1980s slasher Camp Bloodbath. When a fire starts during a tribute screening of the film, Max and her friends escape through tearing the movie screen only to end up being transported inside the film. They must unite with the Camp Bloodbath characters to battle a Jason-esque serial killer named Billy Murphy. Much like Scream, The Final Girls knowingly acknowledges the horror links of promiscuity and death. Max and her friends struggle to keep the horny teenage characters away from each other so they don’t have sex. In one scene, the “promiscuous” girl lifts up her shirt and does a (hilarious!) strip-tease to entice the killer’s arrival. Adam Devine shines in particular as the sex-starved jock replete with innuendos, “I’m a cherry stealer,” critiquing outdated and overt 1980s sexism.
Many critics felt that the studio’s insistence on a PG-13 rating diluted the film’s emulation of slasher gore. How can you parody Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th if you can’t show similar kills? While I can see the merits in having stronger violence, I personally found it refreshing not to have a horror film with excessive female nudity. Not that I don’t embrace those elements of horror, but I feel The Final Girls is something that young girls could enjoy. The Final Girls often straddles between homage and subversion, and I feel the lack of nudity perhaps enabled the film to point out the ludicrousy of retro horror’s generic practices.
The Final Girls could have easily been a lame, gimmicky meta-horror spoof but placing a mother/daughter story in its center adds a unique and surprising layer of affective emotion to the story. Max becomes a mother figure towards her mother (or rather, the character her mother played in the movie) as she instructs her imperative things about being a girl, such as avoiding aggressive guys like Devine’s character. Max teaches her that she has merit, that she is not just “the shy girl with the clipboard and guitar.” The story of Camp Bloodbath transforms into a symbolic and moving journey for Max to reconcile with her mother’s passing. The film asserts the seminal figure in horror, the final girl, can be so much more: strong, beautiful and compassionate characters that are not defined solely by whether or not they are a virgin. The delightful Halloween II-esque ending was the cherry on top of this inventive horror comedy. You’ll never be able to listen to “Bette Davis Eyes” without crying ever again.
By Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 70s/80s era Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are her faves. She blogs even more about her film obsession at cinematicvisions.wordpress.com.