The Final Girls

FinalGirls1At Camp Blue Finch, “the days are warm, the girls are hot, the nights are cool… and evil lurks around every corner.” That was the promise of Camp Bloodbath, the 1986 slasher movie which well over two decades later still defines the career of former starlet Amanda Cartwright (Watchmen’s Malin Åkerman) Nancy, who fell victim to maniac Billy Murphy, the madman himself returning in sequel Camp Bloodbath 2: Cruel Summer.

In the real world Amanda retains the determination but not the success, unable to get casting agents to see beyond that bygone summer. Refusing to let her spirit be dampened after another audition for which she holds no hope for a callback, she drives home with teenage daughter Max (American Horror Story: Murder House‘s Taissa Farmiga), miming to Kim Carnes’ Bette Davies Eyes, when a glancing collision flips the car.

FinalGirls2aThree years later, against her better judgement Max has reluctantly agreed to attend the Camp Bloodbath double bill arranged by her friend Duncan (Thomas Middleditch) on the anniversary of her mother’s death. “At least I get to see her, even if it is being chased by a lunatic with a machete.”

Offering support are her friends Gertie (Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat) and Chris (Vikings‘ Alexander Ludwig) and the somewhat less supportive Vicki (The Vampire Diaries‘ Nina Dobrev), still treating ex-boyfriend Chris as though he were her personal serf, but tragedy strikes at the screening, a fire breaking out in the auditorium, the blocked exits leaving only one way out, through the screen – and in the manner of a Janet Jackson video, straight into the cinematic events of the summer of 1986…

FinalGirls3aSo far so Unpleasantville, and drawing from the post-modern analysis of horror movies in Scream, Duncan is the first to intuit the rules of the film in which they find themselves, that they must participate in the story in order for it to progress, but faced with the teen version of her mother, Max is resolved to alter the ending.

Punctuated by a handful of sharp one liners (“I can’t believe we’re just going to stand by and watch someone get murdered – what is this, Detroit?”), progress is slow, the premise of writers M A Fortin and former actor Joshua John Miller stretched with long pauses filled with lingering looks and an unsupportable four credit sequences (opening and closing for Camp Bloodbath and the same for The Final Girls itself).

FinalGirls4aThe final roll may be the slowest and most indulgent credit sequence known to cinema, lasting a full ten minutes as each actor is heralded individually as though to convince the audience they have just witnessed something truly special rather than the more practical likelihood that it is to further inflate the running time to an unjustified ninety one minute “feature” length.

Responsibility sits firmly with director Todd Strauss-Schulson whose dubious background in comedy (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and three episodes of the US remake of The Inbetweeners) does not compensate for his absolute lack of understanding of the horror genre, the film devoid of atmosphere, tension or scares, instead running like a Hallowe’en episode of a comforting teen television series before it descends into Home Alone pranks to defeat Billy.

FinalGirls5aThe choice of that target audience might also explain the self-imposed handicap which keeps the production pointlessly tame; while obviously modelled after the first two entries in the Friday the 13th series (and by extension A Bay of Blood which inspired them), decades after release those still retain their 18 certificate on their current UK releases yet this is a family friendly 15, devoid of the slasher flick hallmarks of unnecessary nudity, copious gore or invention in the killings which might at least distract from the deficiencies elsewhere.

The overuse of truly amateur digital effects is intrusive – the car crash, the opening credit of Camp Bloodbath, the dropped litre bottle of vodka which gushes out around a gallon of flammable spirits as it weaves its way beneath the cinema seats – but moreover they have no place in a homage to an era of cinema where no such techniques existed, where every slashing and stabbing had to be achieved with talent, ingenuity and manual skills.

FinalGirls7aNeither is the period recreation effective in the way that The Box, Hobo With a Shotgun or The Editor were, when beyond set decoration and costume it was the filmmaking technique which expressed the era without resorting to Wedding Singer style “look, we’re in the eighties!” callouts. Worse are the flashbacks to 1957, where even if monochrome film was not an option some token processing to make the footage look dated rather than modern video with desaturated colour should have been employed in the same way as the vintage trailer for Camp Bloodbath which opens the film.

Another anachronism is the casting, the modern characters demographically unchallenged in their uniformity while the token black camp counsellor at Blue Finch violates the reality of that time where horror was almost universally made by white folks for white folks, a truth which Wes Craven played on in his racially aware class warfare satire The People Under the Stairs.

FinalGirls6aOne needs only to look at the work of Joss Whedon to know that when a genre mashup works it can not only cross boundaries but fly over them, but despite the obvious template of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a reluctant girl who inherits the power of the final girl only when all the other potentials have been eliminated, the nerdy friend always ready with a movie reference, the less attractive Jewish best friend who secretly loves nerdy guy, the raven haired uber-bitch just along for the ride) this blade needed to have been much sharper if it was to cut deep.

With little to recommend it beyond a decent soundtrack and the performances of Åkerman and Farmiga, the honesty of their believable relationship shining through the mediocrity of the material, it doesn’t matter how good the cast are when the unstoppable killer is an underdeveloped script and flat direction.

The Final Girls is available on DVD now




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