The Horror Honeys: SXSW Review: The Final Girls

SXSW Review: The Final Girls

A Head Honey SXSW Review by Kat

The Final Girls (2015)

Kicking off the Midnighters series at SXSW 2015 was a film that I'd heard only a little bit about in the months leading up to the festival. Honesty first: the plot summary was setting me up for a film that I wasn't excited to see. I had seen it before, done often, and done badly, in film after film. I was tired of meta posturing and homages... Coming off of a very long day of travel, I wasn't in the most charitable of moods when I sat down for the screening.

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson introduced the film to thunderous applause and hoots from the audience. He was nervous, but honored and excited to be showing his film: "It was a hard movie to make... there were parts where I was too ambitious..." Ambition is something that indie directors stumble over many times in their careers, sometimes the stumble makes them pick up speed, and sometimes it's a straight shot downhill.

I'm sorry I almost stepped on your orange dress in the bathroom, Nina Dobrev.
To set the mood of the crowd, it was an 11:30pm screening, the ONLY screening for the film, and the lineup stretched for blocks from the theatre. People were extremely enthusiastic... maybe a little too extreme, as the opening SXSW mini bumper made more than a few people scream with its easy jump scare. My expectations were officially set at a very firm low level.

I'm not usually a willing passenger on the Meta Train, but about 15 minutes into The Final Girls, I forgot that I hadn't slept in 24 hours and hadn't eaten anything substantial for about the same about of time.

Max and her mother, Amanda, have a unique relationship. When I say unique, I mean the kind or relationship where mother and daughter are the very best of friends and the boundary between the authority of a typical parent/child relationship is a tenuous one. Struggling to break free of the stigma of being the girl who dies after "giving up the butterfly" in a classic 80s summer camp slasher, for Amanda, landing legitimate acting roles is a difficult process, and our meta narration begins. As horror fans we see the plight of all of our favorite horror women struggling to break into mainstream work, and it's hard not to immediately feel an understanding for Amanda's frustration. On the way home from another failed audition, Max and Amanda are involved in a horrifyingly random car accident and Max is the only survivor.

This is as T&A as the film gets. I applaud this choice.
Three years later, Max is still struggling to pick up the pieces of her life. Making up Max's small circle of friends is her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), who is someone I'd totally like to hang out with. New addition, Chris (Alexander Ludwig) is around to help tutor Max on her Classics homework, and Gertie's brother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch channeling Tom Green in a non-obnoxious way) arrives to ruin the party by being a giant fanboy of Max's mother's famous slasher film. Which he brings up at every occasion. Like many 80s slasher films, Camp Bloodbath and its sequel have a rabid and obsessive following, and Duncan is its poster boy. His mission is to convince Max to make a special appearance at a double feature screening. The reward? Doing all of her Classics homework for a month. Rounding out the group of leads, is Vicki (Nina Dobrev), who establishes herself right away as a stereotypically shallow bitch who has territorial designs on her ex-boyfriend, Chris.  

Sidebar: As a holder of a Classics degree, I'm DECIDEDLY annoyed with how WRONG that brief mythology discussion was... it's not hard to Google that shit. Don't just make it up.

I focus on weird stuff, OK? Carry on.

At this double feature, Final Girls goes full Meta and the cheesy jokes and eye rolling one-liners we expect from an 80s slasher make their appearance. The counsellors make their stereotypes known immediately: Max's mother appears as Nancy, the good girl; Tina, the scene stealing bubbleheaded slut; Blake, the token black guy; and Kurt, the douchebag jock who reminds me of a guy I edited a 'book' for once. Seriously... carbon copy. I wanted to punch the air near his face; and Paula, the late arriving badass.
Punching. All. The. Things. 
Camp Bloodbath unfolds with typical 80s slasher style, and as the action on screen plays out, in the theatre a chain of stupidity (of course, slasher films) causes the theatre to erupt in flames. Trying to escape the blaze by cutting a hole in the the theatre screen, Max and her friends somehow cut themselves right into Camp Bloodbath, but instead of cinematic scares... the deaths are very real. Confronted with her mother, but as her character, Nancy, Max has to find a way to survive to the end of the film, and somehow save her mother and her friends at the same time.

The Meta: The masked slasher in The Final Girls is a generous amalgam of several 80s slashers, he's Jason Voorhees, Angela, Michael Myers, and Freddy all rolled into one. His revenge motive covers a LOT of familiar territory, and makes his appearances and backstory enjoyable and identifiable. One-liners, classic horror stereotypes, montages, and some of the best elements of your favorite horror movies make an appearance. An elaborate plan falls apart, rules are broken, and the final fight is a brilliant mashup of literally every amazing Final Girl in horror.

Interesting note: The Final Girls is refreshingly devoid of pointless 80s homage T&A. Even at a specifically topless scene, the camera is focused on the actors face... not her tits. Color me impressed.

I've seen a LOT of films that their directors/creators label as a "love letter to the genre," but for me, films like that end up being full of details that only hardcore horror fans will enjoy or recognize, or that only amuse the filmmaker. The Final Girls is a true, and more importantly, accessible and highly enjoyable love letter to the horror genre and that's said without any hint of irony. The meta dialogue is delivered genuinely, and the parody is sincere and lovingly written instead of harshly presented, which is the line that most parodies ride.

Head Honey verdict:  4 generically bladed weapon swinging maniacs out of 5