As you all know by now, I consider myself to be a feminist. Girl Power and all of that.
As a horror movie fan, a big part of that is a healthy love for the Final Girl. She is the symbol for everything great within the genre. The Final Girl represents a sense of female empowerment, strength, and independence. Not to mention fighting back against stereotypes. And you can’t really find fault with that.
Well, almost. There’s one thing that I’ve always had a problem with when it comes to the Final Girl, and it all comes down to the very reason Final Girls became a thing in the first place.
Consider this: the thinking was that women are more believable as vulnerable subjects. You have to have stakes in order for the audience to be invested, in order for the audience to be afraid for the characters, and it was accepted that with a female lead victim, the stakes were higher. Because women are weaker, and if you put a male lead victim up against the male killer, they were seen as too equally matched for the stakes to be high, for the audience to fear for the male victim’s safety. Women were seen as having more to overcome in order to stand up to the male killer. The stakes were just higher.
Add to that the sexist criteria for a character to make it to being the Final Girl, and the less-than-feminist aspects regarding the nature of the Final Girl in earlier versions, and you might start to get the case I’m making for why Final Boys can have something to offer feminism in horror. Final Girls have always, for the most part, been virginal, non-threatening, meek, and only seem to find their strength in the end moments when there is no one else between them and the killer. They don’t talk back, always do the right thing, and always come with a layer of protection, having narrowly survived because of being assisted by others, usually male victims who die trying to save her.
Of course, there have been notable exceptions, like Trish Jenner from Jeepers Creepers, Sidney Prescott in Scream, and more and more with each new slasher movie. But these are still the exception, and not even close to being the rule.
Meanwhile, Final Boys are not held to such standards. They don’t have to be virginal, although we rarely see them having sex. They are allowed to flaunt their strength prior to the climax. They can crack wise, be sarcastic, they can be imposing, and do not necessarily need to come with a layer of protection.
But here’s the thing. While male lead victims aren’t required to meet this standards as much as female lead victims have since at least the 80s, do they, actually?
The answer is no. What I have found to be the case is that in many instances, Final Boys are just as vulnerable and pristine as their female counterparts are required to be. Often, they are even meeker than the female leads, and meet a number of traditional "good guy" criteria.
This is a discussion that came to my mind because I know not all the Horror Honeys believe in the Final Boy. The reason? It is hard enough for women to make a name in horror and this has mostly been done through the role of Final Girl. But all I’m saying is that that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best or only role for women in the genre. Doesn’t, on some level, being relegated to either Final Girl or irrelevant slut who dies early on, prove that there is more work to be done? Work to, if nothing else, even the playing field? That’s where the Final Boy comes in.
The Final Destination series is a perfect example of this. Starting with Devon Sawa. Alex Browning is the perfect male equivalent of an 80s Final Girl. He’s unimposing, he doesn’t appear to have the hound dog tendencies of some of his horny teenage friends do, and he’s extremely emotional. He doesn’t even want to believe that he has the power to stop these murders, and when he does, it’s only because a girl who’s smarter and more emotionally stable than he is, has come to explain to him what he has, and ultimately it is her wisdom and belief in him that allows him to save his own life and hers. In this case, the girl doesn’t get to be a Final Girl, but she holds the ultimate power in saving the Final Boy and being the leader who allows him to appear to be so. By halfway through it, you know that even if Alex has to save Clear, she’s still the one running the show. Even in the second movie, Clear is still running the show as she passes the torch to Kimberly. Kimberly has more ease stepping into her role as FG than her FGB counterpart, and Clear is still there to control the others and say things that Kimberly can’t say. She even tells Kimberly that she was responsible for Alex, not the other way around. Here you have not one but two women empowered without truly falling into the Final Girl archetype. By the third movie, there’s a more traditional FG lead in Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, but she, like her predecessors, does what she has to do and doesn’t wait until half of her friends die to stop whining and take charge. She’s allowed to be emotional and girly, but is still more emotionally stable and mature while she has to snap her male friends out of their emotional outbursts and moment of being reactionary instead of thinking clearly. And then there are 4 and 5, which gives us two practically interchangeable, less than memorable FBs who basically run around not really understanding the gift they have, and only luckily come into their own because of their desire to play hero to women who are completely out of their league, and who ultimately have to spell things out for the Final Boys. Not to mention the 4th one having replaced the blonde slutty chick with a male bimbo in Nick Zano. I can’t find anything in that to be a threat to women in horror.
In Halloween H20, Josh Hartnett is a Final Boy being passed the torch from his legendary Scream Queen/Final Girl mother Laurie. He is the antithesis of most high school boys. He’s sensitive, romantic, gentle, cries and practically freaks out as soon as he comes into contact with his Uncle Michael (you can’t have a Final Girl behaving in this way anymore; it would be, at minimum, controversial). The only thing rebellious that he does is sneak off campus to pick up items to make dinner with his girlfriend more romantic. And, by sheer numbers, he does less to save himself and his friends than any other Final Boy or girl that comes to mind. His mommy is the one that has to save him. Repeatedly. Granted, you can cut him some slack on this considering who his mother is, but… still.
And finally, I want to make mention of two films that have roots in other sub genres, but play out like slashers: Jeepers Creepers and The Faculty. We have a Final Boy in Darry, but the real star is his sister Trish. She’s the one with all the strength, she’s the one who gets all the witty one liners, and even though her brother tries to take the lead, she is smarter, more fearless, and tries to sacrifice herself for her brother. She is in complete control of herself and the situation, even in the most dangerous of moments, and still survives even though she is not the lead and does not even begin to come close to meeting the Final Girl archetypes. And in The Faculty, which is really just a slasher with aliens, Final Boy Casey is more like an FG right out of the 80s. He’s weak until the last minute when he has no choice but to be strong, put open, bullied but remains kind hearted, clearly virginal, and the most unlikely of heroes. He’s a character so whiny, if still likeable, that no one with a rooting interest in feminism can be disappointed that Casey was played by Elijah Wood and not some female actress. We wouldn’t want a female lead victim to let everyone walk all over her, pining over the school’s hottest jerk, and trying to save people who belittle her.
Which brings me to the point of it all. A Final Boy does not take away from the role of the Final Girl in horror history, or the role of feminist progression in horror. A Final Boy doesn’t have to make things harder for women in the genre. If anything, more Final Boys could open up the opportunity for women to play other slasher/horror archetypes previously given to men. Why can’t a girl be the gross jock? Does a female character have to survive to the end to be empowered, or can’t she die in the process of saving others in a heroic act that maybe costs her her life, but says something about a woman being as strong and powerful as a man? And doesn’t a Final Boy ultimately say something about equality, in that his existence speaks to men and women being equally prone to vulnerability, equally likely victims, and equal enough to react the same way in horrifying situations? If the Final Girl speaks to women finding their strength and taking power back from men who might want to hurt them, shouldn’t we be at a point by now where female strength should be a given, and not something we have to “find”?
If all of these male leads are the equivalent of female predecessors, and are finding their strength from the female characters, and if that in turn means that women get roles where the character is already progressed and doesn’t have to find strength and the will to take down the killer, but instead already have it—does this really hurt feminism, or instead help it?
Do YOU agree with my assessment of the "Final Boy" phenomenon? Tell me on Twitter! @ChassMM