Tuesday, 27 October 2015


It may not have been the first slasher movie, but Friday the 13th is certainly among the most influential films in the genre.
Without Sean Cunningham's seminal 1980 movie we wouldn't have had the wave of summer camp slaughter-fests that have come to epitomise slashers.
As a film that established so many of the 'rules' that meta-slashers such as Scream have popularised, it seems surprising to me that it's taken until now for a film like The Final Girls to hit our screens.
It's a rare thing for me to say this, but I'm going to implore you all now — if you have not yet seen the movie, PLEASE just buy/rent it straightaway and watch it totally blind. You're so much better served going in without a clue as to what it's about. Once you've seen that, come back and read this review. 
It'll still be here, I promise.


Dir: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Nina Dobrev, Adam Devine, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson, Lauren Gros, Dan B.Norris

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: Once again, if you've not seen the The Final Girls I urge you to check it out before reading on. I'll try not to spoil too much but continue at your own risk.

Max (Farmiga) is the teenage daughter of actress Amanda Cartwright (Akerman), a talented starlet who never quite broke out after her scene-stealing turn as Nancy in classic Eighties slasher movie Camp Bloodbath. Still, she has done a good job of raising her daughter as a single mother and the pair share an extremely close bond — until tragedy strikes one night and Amanda is killed in a car accident.
One year on and Max is getting by, thanks to the support of her friends, including feisty Gertie (Shawkat), and things look up when hunky classmate Chris (Ludwig) shows an interest.
However, when Gertie's film-dork stepbrother Duncan (Middleditch) learns who Max's mother was he pleads with her to attend a special cinema double-bill of Camp Bloodbath and its sequel.
At the cinema things take a turn for the worse when Chris's possessive ex Vicki (Dobrev) arrives, then it explodes into a full-grown catastrophe when a fire breaks out. 
Desperate to escape, Max and her friends tear a hole in the screen and flee... straight into the woods surrounding the fictional Camp Bluefinch, stalking grounds of Camp Bloodbath's masked psycho, Billy Murphy (Norris, who does a wonderful job of channeling Kane Hodder).
Initially — and understandably — confused, the group are soon enlightened when a camper van of teenage camp counsellors arrives and takes them to the camp. On the way they become familiar with horny jock Kurt (Devine), easy good-time girl Tina (Trimbur), token nice guy minority Blake (Thompson) and, of course, doomed inexperienced Nancy.
Max is blown away by this second chance to spend time with her mother and super-fan Duncan is absolutely delighted to be able to witness the events of his favourite movie first-hand, stating that they'll be fine as long as they follow tough final girl and chief counsellor Paula (Bridges).
But when it becomes clear that nobody is safe from the machete of Murphy, the group are forced to write their own story, trying to keep themselves and the original victims safe as they seek to reach the end credits alive.
Can they convince their stereotypical new friends to ditch the behaviour that equals instant death in a slasher movie? Will Max be able to keep her mother alive this time? And herself?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Wow, I did not see The Final Girls coming. It's a fantastically clever and funny meta horror story, taking elements of both Scream and The Cabin in the Woods with lashings of Eighties nostalgia. This is one of the most unique plots I've seen in some time and really does play out as a love-letter to slasher movies — especially the ever-popular Friday the 13th.
The witty script, penned by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, combines so many elements — the most obvious being a straight up slasher movie, but it also adds elements of fish-out-of-water comedies (as our modern day and the Camp Bluefinch teens suffer a real culture shock in their interactions), satire (in which genre tropes are lovingly portrayed as irresistible universal truths), a regular teen comedy (Duncan and the acidic Vicki could have wandered straight in from the likes of Mean Girls or American Pie) and a surprisingly moving character driven drama.
Of course it is the nods to the genre that stand-out in the memory — characters hearing a familiar synthetic echo sound each time the hulking Murphy is nearby, certain phrases causing colour to drain from the world as the characters are propelled back in time in flashbacks, rock solid subtitles that our leads have to step over and hilariously realised slow motion in which puzzled would be victims can't understand why they're unable to run. What's more, cinematographer Elie Smolkin includes plenty of more subtle stylistic flourishes that utterly fit the film-making techniques of the mid Eighties while ensuring the modern day scenes look and feel as polished as any big studio release.
It's a rarity for somebody to take a concept and mine it for every single cliche and possible laugh, but director Strauss-Schulson hits every single target perfectly.
However, as thorough as he is with his deconstruction of the slasher genre, it never feels mean-spirited or as if this is a film that thinks it is above the subject matter. No, this is a loving, gentle homage, celebrating the tropes it skewers, willfully turning expectations on their heads by twisting and subverting these rules, especially when it comes to the surprisingly rich characters
And it really is the characters that are vital to the success of most of The Final Girl's plot elements.
It is the characterisation and the sterling cast that really drive the film along between its satirical set-pieces.
Each character has a clearly defined role in the plot, yet each is capable of surprising us at key moments in the plot — and many of them do. 
Perhaps the most straightforward is Farmiga's Max. A character whose whole existence is almost entirely defined by the traumatic event at the onset of the movie, her motivation is not just understandable, it's a built in cause for sympathy. Farmiga, who will be familiar to genre fans for her roles in TV series American Horror Story, is fantastic, using her naturally sad eyes as a perfect tool to establish the turmoil and grief at her character's heart. Her delivery is impeccable and she ably takes on her character's tougher side later in the film. It is her burgeoning relationship with Nancy that becomes the main focus of the film, more so than her blossoming romance with Chris or established bond with Gertie.
Thankfully, Akerman is also wonderful as the other part of this double-act. She runs with both sides of her dual-role. She impresses with her (admittedly brief) turn as Amanda, Max's ill-fated mother, where she is warm and heart-felt. She's a cool mum, the sort whose career proves both embarrassing and a source of admiration for her daughter. She's extremely likeable, even if she may be a little too youthful in her appearance to truly play an Eighties scream queen.
However, it's in her second role of Camp Bloodbath's Nancy that she really impresses. She's earnest, sweet, naive — a bookish girl ready to finally offer up her virginity, and with it her life.
Malin Akerman has stunning good looks, but because of this it feels as if people often overlook her acting talent. It's a shame because she is a very, very good actress and her work in The Final Girls is no exception.
The supporting cast are all very good, but special praise must go to the more colourful characters among their number.
Middleditch is great and shows some superb comic timing during his key scenes. He's a dork, but loveable with it, and he performs one of the very finest pratfalls I've seen in some time. 
Equally hilarious is the scene-stealing Devine who has at least half of the best lines in the film. Bringing lunkish, one-dimensional Eighties alpha-male Kurt to life with just enough tongue-in-cheek charm and (very deeply buried) sweetness to keep him entertaining, Devine's work is a riot. He is at the centre of some of the best scenes in the film, and he (along with Tina) are the ones with the most to learn from their latterday companions.
Speaking of Trimbur's Tina, she is also hilarious, literally twitching to get drunk and start cavorting nakedly, forcing our heroes to dress her in unwieldy layer upon unwieldy layer to protect her modesty and with it, her life.
Another hit among our ladies is the gorgeous Dobrev (of Vampire Diaries fame). A self-centred, high-maintenance bitch, Dobrev's flawless mean girl delivery shows comic timing that I haven't seen from her before. What's more, rather than remain a one-dimensional stereotype (like the joke characters of Camp Bloodbath) she's actually given a clearly defined arc and has a legitimately moving moment late on in the film.
This is possibly the most surprising element in a film that delights in providing plenty of unexpected twists and turns — among the stabs and sniggers it has plenty of heart too. Sure the laughs and in-jokes are what draw you in, but by the time the strains of Betty Davis Eyes starts to play during the climactic scene, it is the genuine emotional investment you've made in Max, Rachel and the other hapless victims of Billy Murphy that will keep your eyes riveted to the screen.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): I've seen some negative reviews of The Final Girls, and universally, the main problem with each of them seems to be that the movie is too much comedy, not enough horror.
It's true that there are decidedly more laughs than screams, but it doesn't totally forget to include the slasher jolts we've come to know and love. Go in knowing it's laughs with some slasher horrror along the way rather than vice versa and you'll be ok.
On a similar note, the film was not R rated in the States, and lots of old-school slasher fans have bemoaned the lack of nudity and violent gore.
I understand where people are coming from, but do feel a need to point out the real paucity of naked flesh in the first Friday the 13th. Sure, certain characters are portrayed in such a way that they would almost certainly get naked in a mid-late Eighties slasher movie, but I for one don't think that bare boobs are the only difference between a good and a poor film.
As for blood, I'm in two minds here. I think some of the kills could have been more graphic, especially some of the later ones during the ill-fated attempt to trap Billy, but I'd argue that the car accident provides a spectacularly gruesome image, and there are other suitably bloody touches scattered throughout the film. Just a couple more really could have made the world of difference.
I've also heard some people pick on the hilarious Devine, claiming he doesn't have the look of an Eighties jock.
Ok, maybe he isn't as muscular as the genre's blonde-mulleted alpha males (such as The Burning's Glazer) but he carries the role with so much swaggering attitude that he TOTALLY pulls it off. 
On a final note, I found the ending a little predictable, but that's not the end of the world. Here's hoping that it means we can expect more from this series.

THE VERDICT: If you have even a passing interest in the classic slasher heyday of the 1980s, you NEED to see The Final Girls.
Even if you don't, but you fancy some laughs instead of straight-up scares, you really should check it out. Well-shot and acted, witty, moving and utterly hilarious, this love-letter to our genre is worthy of affection in its own right. It's absolutely fantastic. 

The Final Girls is available to buy here in the UK right now! Buy it at Amazon here.
Visit the film's official Facebook page for more information. Give it a Like while you're there too, share the love!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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