Tuesday 19 December 2017

You Should See This: The Final Girls (2015)

A quick note before we begin. You’ve probably noticed that this feature is no longer going under its original name, Why Haven’t You Seen…? This is because a reader who is also a friend on Twitter pointed something out to me about that title. He said that it was making an assumption and that “I love this and think you might too” is a better message than “catch up”. He was correct. 

To be clear, WHYS was always supposed to be a series enthusing about things that I suspected readers might not have seen yet, but I never wanted that to come across as me scolding you. If it ever has I apologise. That’s why I’ve changed the title of the series; I want to invite you to movies, not tell you off for not having seen them yet. 

So, without further ado… You Should See This

The Final Girls (2015)
What’s It All About?
A parody of and commentary on 80’s slasher films, The Final Girls sees Max (Taissa Farmiga) and her friends sucked into Camp Bloodbath, a cult slasher film that Max’s late mother (Malin Akerman) starred in in 1986. Inside the movie they must survive being pursued by Billy Murphy while Max tries to rescue Nancy, her mother’s character.

You Should See It Because
Taking the piss out of something, particularly as large a target as slasher movies, is easy. Doing that while also paying sincere tribute, making a film that feels as though it would sit comfortably alongside the very films it is satirising and making something with real, unexpected, emotional depth is a much bigger challenge. With The Final Girls, director Todd Strauss-Schulson and writers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller manage to hit all of those targets.

The Final Girls could have been a whole lot dumber than it is. It probably still would have been a lot of fun, as Fortin and Miller’s screenplay displays a deep knowledge of and fondness for the films they are ribbing. The gags range from the simple nods and winks at how bad the dialogue in slashers can often be and how formulaic they are, to much more metatextual things like the use of subtitles in a flashback as a 3D element and the way a shift into a scripted moment from Camp Bloodbath effects the characters who are supposed to be in the movie.

In putting his characters and his audience into the world of a cheesy 80s slasher, Todd Strauss-Schulson turns things up to eleven as soon as we arrive in the world of Camp Bloodbath. We’ve glimpsed the movie through a trailer and through what we’ve seen before a fire breaks out at the screening, which is how Max and her friends end up in the film, but the hyper-real technicolor world we find ourselves in within Camp Bloodbath captures the look of the genre and the period without winking too hard at the screen. There is real comic joy to be had in the way that horror nerd Duncan (Thomas Middleditch) reacts to being in the world he’s watched from the outside so often, in his glee at the terrible dialogue and his curiosity about whether the ‘characters’ actually have corn syrup running through their veins. The film riffs on the stereotypical characters of the genre, doing so to particularly fine effect with Adam Devine, who comes up with a lot of great off the cuff jokes as the horny jock among the camp counsellors and Angela Trimbur, who walks right up to the the line of overplaying the dumb girl who, in any other 80s slasher, would exist purely to get her boobs out and die. These and a lot of the other gags will definitely work best if you know your slashers, but the film is very funny in its own right, and never relies on specialist knowledge for a joke to hit.

If a fun, consistently funny, slasher spoof were all there was to The Final Girls that would be fine, but it excels because it brings a lot more than that to the table. Strauss-Schulson uses his clearly limited budget in very creative ways, coming up with a lot of intricate shots. Some of these - like the way that reality seems to melt as a flashback begins or looping when Max and the others realise they’re trapped - play into the filmic world of the story. Others, like the complex crane shot that occurs when Camp Bloodbath’s killer Billy Murphy attacks the cabin where most of the film takes place, are simply trying to bring a new visual twist to the way that something we’ve seen in a hundred other movies is presented. That superbly fluid crane shot signals the start of the film’s third act, in which the visual stylisation and confidence seems to grow with every image, from the brilliant, beautiful, slow motion sequence to the striking images of a machete wielding Max stepping out under a red sky for the final confrontation.

All of this is given added resonance by the mother/daughter storyline. Slashers aren’t exactly known for their emotional depth but this is an exception. Co-writer Joshua John Miller had the idea in the aftermath of his father’s death, and that resonates throughout the film. The close mother daughter relationship between Taissa Farmiga’s Max and Malin Akerman’s Amanda is established in short order in the film’s first scene and it echoes in each of their performances. Farmiga has been a little stuck in the shadow of her sister Vera, but this performance shows that she’s every bit as talented. The first moment that she sees Amanda’s character Nancy is especially beautifully played. She has to process so many emotions in one short moment; seeing her mother alive after three years, realising it’s not really her mother she’s looking at and processing how to behave to seem like she belongs in the world of the movie. It’s all beautifully articulated. Akerman, an actress I’ve previously seen cast mainly for her looks and willingness to do nudity, finds depths I didn’t know she had, giving Nancy’s dawning awareness of her role in the story an emotional pull. The two play off each other beautifully, never more so than in the film’s climactic scenes, which use a demo version of Bette Davis’ Eyes to such emotional effect that from now on I’ll always hear the song in the context of that moment. There’s real beauty in those moments, again giving new context to an image we’ve seen many times in horror.

The Final Girls is a great parody, a great tribute to the films it loves, but it’s also a film that looks for and finds new depths in a genre that isn’t known for them. In an era that has found a lot of filmmakers reexamining the role of the final girl trope, this does it intelligently and to winningly surprising effect. 

How Can You See It?
The Final Girls is available on extras heavy Blu Ray and DVD in the US, but only on DVD in the UK.

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