It’s difficult for me to speak objectively about The Final Girls‘ merits as a horror comedy, because so much of the film’s content is so distinctly in my wheelhouse. It’s also difficult to describe the film’s high-concept premise without spoiling its major conceit. So, I’ll just leave you with this vague recommendation for now: if you happen to be a fan of 80s “camp site slasher films” like Friday the 13th & Sleepaway Camp and you enjoy meta genre send-ups like Scream & The Last Action Hero, please check out The Final Girls as soon as you can. Save reading reviews (like this one, for instance) for after you give the film a chance. It’s best to go into this movie cold if you can manage it. I wish I had, anyway.
For those who need a little more convincing up front, here’s a quick run-down of the film’s premise. The Final Girls revolves around a fictional example of the oldschool “camp site slashers” mentioned above named Camp Bloodbath. Good title. When Camp Bloodbath is first introduced as a Grindhouse-style trailer on a smart phone, it’s unclear exactly how involved the plot will get with the horror relic. The answer is very. Five modern teens with varying degrees of familiarity with the film find themselves magically transplanted inside the move itself, à la The Last Action Hero. Don’t spend too much time questioning exactly how this could possibly happen, because the movie has very little interest in providing an answer. Instead, the device is used as a launchpad for lovingly spoofing the slasher genre from a modern perspective. It’s a means to a satisfying end.
As you can tell from The Final Girls‘ title, the film has a lot of fun playing with slasher genre tropes, especially in the film’s interactions between the self-aware modern teens & the fictional teen camp counselors at Camp Bloodbath. A lot of the teens’ plans to escape the machete-wielding Billy Murphy, a Jason Voorhees stand-in, revolves around abstaining from sex. The thinking is that teen sex invariably ends in death in oldschool slashers, which is something even the Friday the 13th series itself mocks in the humorously self-aware hologram scene in Jason X. The Final Girls also pokes fun at how teen dialogue is often moronic in oldschool slashers, like when an 80s teen tells a modern visitor, “Go suck a turd,” and he amusedly replies, “The writing is so bad.” Another modern character comments on her soon-to-end shelf life with the line, “I’m the mean girl in the 80s horror movie & we’re past the midpoint so . . .” There’s also attention paid to Camp Bloodbath‘s over-the-top John Carpenter score, the fact that cheap horror films can sometimes head to career-long typecasting, and the fact that there is often a very fine line between a slasher & a porno. The genre trope references are nothing if not relentless.
One of my favorite things about The Final Girls is that it not only participates in the trope-referencing meta play of Wes Craven’s Scream, but because of the film’s outlandish movie-within-a-movie concept, it also adopts the dream logic of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Although the film’s main goal is undoubtedly comedy, it does reach for eerie, otherworldly horror in its central conceit. As the modern teens attempt to escape their fictional prison they discover that all roads lead back to camp. In their words, “The movie won’t let us leave.” As a result, they find themselves stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque 90min loop until they can fulfil the slasher genre’s plot cycle to its conclusion, including establishing which virginal “final girl” would will remain alive to slay Not Jason at the film-within-the-film’s conclusion. There’s also a creepy interplay in the way exact dialogue from Camp Bloodbath bleeds over into “real life” conversation & in the way the 80s camp counselors are ritually devoted to their cues in certain scenes. Not all of the world-building is creepy, though. Just as the The Final Girls pokes fun at the predictability of horror movie tropes, it also mines humor from the artificiality of more general cinematic devices like black & white flashbacks, slow-motion escapes, and the physical appearance of production credits.
The reason I said earlier that I couldn’t be objective about The Final Girls as a finished product is that I recognize the film has some glaring faults, but I greatly enjoyed it anyway. Its straight-forward Jokes aren’t always as laugh-out-loud funny as they’re posed to be. The rules of its universe are more fluid & self-contradictory than they should be. There’s also an unfortunate mount of weak CG imagery, which would normally be excusable in a cheap indie like this, except that the film calls direct attention to it in over-the-top Sam Raimi-style camera movement. However, that last complaint might be a little particular to my tastes, since I’m far from an Evil Dead fan. These are minor speed bumps for me, though, since so much of what’s going on in The Final Girls I’m already predisposed to enjoy. Not only am I a sucker for high-concept camp, but the movie features features contributions from a handful of minor personalities that I’m always down to watch in action: Alia “Maeby Fünke” Shawkat, Thomas “Silicon Valley” Middleditch, Joshua John “Teen Witch/Near Dark/Class of 1999” Miller (as a writer/producer), etc. The film’s 80s pop music cues also hit my sweet spot, including expert use of “Dance Hall Days“, “Cruel Summer“, and the most emotionally confusing “Bette Davis Eyes” strip tease you’re ever likely to see. There’s also a great deal of heart in the main protagonist’s personal relationship with one of the fictional 80s teens, one that’s particularly refreshing in its emotional severity considering the detached irony of a lot of the film’s meta humor.
Because so much of The Final Girls lines up with any particular interests it is difficult to say whether or not a majority of people will be able to get on its wavelength. I can, however, say this much in the movie’s behalf: audiences typically too squeamish for the slasher genre should be able to stomach the film’s limited gore, as it’s played for laughs more so than terror. I’m not sure that crowd will get as much out of the film’s trope play as the genre’s more dedicated fans, but as I said earlier, there’s plenty else going on to satiate anyone in the mood for a high-concept comedy with an occasional note of devastating heartbreak. If nothing else, The Final Girls will make an excellent compromise for those looking to introduce the horror comedy genre to the less-than-enthused. I expect it’ll make good fodder for many Halloween-themed movie binges in the years to come, perhaps sandwiched between the very “camp site slasher films” it lovingly spoofs.