It’s a twisted hobby of horror fans to ponder just how long we might last if we walked into our favorite scary movie.* For the motley crew of the slasher comedy The Final Girls, this fucked-up fantasy becomes their bloody reality when they escape a movie theater fire by stepping through the screen. Instead of exiting to safety, they find themselves at the start of the “granddaddy of all campside slasher films,” the fictional pic “Camp Bloodbath.”
American Horror Story’s Taissa Farmiga stars as Max, a teen girl who only went to the slasher flick screening to pay tribute to her dearly departed mom Amanda (Malin Akerman), an actress who long ago played “Camp Bloodbath”s sullied virgin turned slut-shamed victim Nancy. Thrown into this dangerous cinematic world, Max strives not only survive to the end credits, but also to bring her mom—in whatever incarnation—back with her.
Along for the journey is her would-be boyfriend (Alexander Ludwig), his jealous ex (Nina Dobrev), Max’s sassy BFF Gertie (Alia Shawkat), and Gertie’s horror fanatic brother (Thomas Middleditch). Together they troop to Camp Bloodbath and meet stock characters like the cherry-popping horn-dog (Adam DeVine), the bubbly bimbo (a scene-stealing Angela Trimbur), the beautiful badass (Chloe Bridges), and of course the merciless murderer.
In keeping with the slasher theme (for better or worse), the performances range from campy to wooden. The slasher stereotypes (DeVine, Trimbur, Bridges) are purposefully presented as cartoonish caricatures. And this could have created a sharp contrast to how “real” people would behave in this insane scenario. But director Todd Strauss-Schulson never commits to this idea. Instead, Shawkat and Middleditch play broad and to their niches, one as a smirking wiseass who spits one-liners, the other as a socially awkward nerd who snaps selfies while the killer stalks him. Dobrev manages to stitch some charm and sympathy into her could-have-been one-note basic bitch, while Ludwig manages little else but being there. But hey, at least he’s not annoying. DeVine’s cringe-inducing machismo may be what his role called for, but I’m so exhausted by this signature shtick that I may have cheered when his dick-driven douchebag met an all-too-timely end.
Shouldering the double role of Amanda/Nancy, Akerman is agile, shedding the former’s world-weariness as easily as the latter sheds her chipper yellow blouse. As wide-eyed good girl, Nancy makes a heartbreaking foil to the mournful Max. But while Akerman is engaging, Farmiga is delivering the same sullen performance we’ve seen her do on American Horror Story. Twice.
Clunky performances aside, The Final Girls is a fun and funny ride that gleefully lampoons slasher tropes, like sex triggering bloodbaths, slo-mo close calls, and a seemingly invincible killer. The Final Girls has lots of fun with its concept. Strauss-Schulson weaves a wild brand of humor into some gory gags. The best of which centers Trimbur’s silly strip tease meant to serve as salacious bait for the repressed killer, luring him into a Rube Goldberg design of death. And this begins a sprint into a spectacular finale.
Ultimately, The Final Girls is an entertaining slasher-romp. But the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. Mainly because it’s silly, but not scary or especially smart. The Final Girls wanders through comedy, drama, some thrills and plenty of gore, but never finds its way to truly frightening. M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller’s script shows a broad strokes understanding of the genre it’s mocking, but never bothers to mine the meaning of its tropes to suss out a cultural commentary. Basically, in the wake of Cabin In The Woods, I’ve come to expect more of a slasher comedy. But while this flick doesn’t’ measure up to that horror-comedy highmark, it does make for a fun movie night, as well as making me interested in seeing what Strauss-Schulson does next.
*Kristy Puchko is confident she’d make it to the end of Jaws because she’d never get near that damned water to begin with.