Main cast: Taissa Farmiga (Max Cartwright), Malin Åkerman (Nancy/Amanda Cartwright), Alexander Ludwig (Chris Briggs), Nina Dobrev (Vicki Summers), Alia Shawkat (Gertie Michaels), Thomas Middleditch (Duncan), Adam DeVine (Kurt), Angela Trimbur (Tina), Chloe Bridges (Paula), Tory N Thompson (Blake), and Daniel Norris (Billy Murphy)
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Despite being marketed as a parody of a slasher film, The Final Girls is actually an unexpectedly moving story of a daughter’s relationship with her mother. It is also, to a lesser extent, a story about female friendship. The fact that it can tear my heart to shreds and leave me wiping away at my eyes while delivering the usual parody stuff… ouch. Let’s just say that Kim Carnes’s Bette Davis Eyes will never be the same to me again. The fact that they used the 1981 version – my favorite version, due to the strings and all – is only acid poured onto my bleeding heart.
Max Cartwright is the responsible teenage daughter of faded scream queen Amanda Cartwright. Amanda continues to audition for roles, still dreaming of being a big movie star one day, but her famous role remains the shy camp counselor Nancy in Camp Bloodbath, a famous cult classic. When the movie opens, Max loses Amanda as a result of a car accident. We then cut to three years later, when she and her friends decide to honor the anniversary of Amanda’s passing by watching Camp Bloodbath and its sequel in a special double screening, with Max being the special guest of honor in the theater. Alas, the theater catches fire and Max rips the screen to let herself and her friends out.
Only, they end up instead in the movie itself, oops. So here they are – Max, Chris who is the guy she has a crush on, Chris’s ex girlfriend Vicki, Max’s friend and horror movie fan Duncan, and Duncan’s caustic stepsister Gertie. Once they realize where they are, they – or rather, Duncan – concludes that they have to stick close to the final girl, a girl named Paula, and when Paula vanquishes the Jason Voorhees wannabe, Billy Murphy, they will be able to go home. Unfortunately, things go wrong shortly after when Billy takes a machete to Duncan (there goes his theory that Billy won’t act out of script) and Paula becomes one of the first ones to die. What will happen now? And for Max, it is personal, but Nancy is, of course, a dead ringer for her late mother, and she is determined to save Nancy, who would die in the original script.
Before I go on, I should point out that Alexander Ludwig also was in Final Girl, a slasher thriller, and interestingly enough, his roles in both movies are complete 180. He was a far more compelling villain in the far inferior Final Girl, while in this far better movie, he plays a near-perfect, bland, and completely inoffensive boyfriend material. But then again, Chris doesn’t matter in this matter much in this movie, it is more about the women – so much more, so remarkably so.
Initially, the movie doesn’t seem like anything special. It is very good at making fun of slasher movies, incorporating the tropes and laughing with the audience about the absurdity of them all, but one can argue that this has been done just as well many times before. As the movie progresses, however, layers begin to unpeel. The mean girl Vicki soon shows more depths, as does the initially one-dimensional snarky girl Gertie, and the friendship among them and Max becomes more apparent. More heartbreaking is the relationship between Nancy and Max. Nancy seems like the typical good girl who seems a bit too good to be true, but she soon turns out to be a shy girl who desperately wants to belong somewhere. She and Max are virgins, which mean they have better plot armor than the other characters in a horror movie, but the odds are against the both of them coming out of the movie alive.
Taissa Farmiga plays her usual surly young girl thing here, but the shtick works wonderfully here when paired with Malin Åkerman’s more emotional and expressive portrayal of Nancy. The two of them have good chemistry together, and the script cleverly delivers the melodrama not through long, bombastic speeches but through just enough words – not too overwrought, just enough with the right blend of poignancy and humor – and a beautiful scene that catches me by surprise and makes me bawl like a baby.
The Final Girls is a pretty fun good-natured parody of slasher films from the 1980s, done with a lot of heart, but the parody elements are just a prelude to some truly heartbreaking mother-daughter drama and doomed friendships between the Max and her friends. Well-scripted, fabulously acted, and pitched perfectly, this movie is absolutely everything to die for,