The classic slasher genre can basically be summed up by one rule: keep your clothes on, and you won’t die. This absurd rule underscores the death and violence that happens on screen. For some reason, those damn killers really want to spoil premarital sex for the rest of us, using unremitting violence to get their way (sounds like congress, amiright?).
Although they seem cheesy now, the menacing force of these killers was originally terrifying in a fresh way and, even now, can still inspire fear in me (and hopefully other grown-ass adults … or at least children, right?). But the scariest part of the genre is never the gory kills, which are typically the funnest and funniest parts of a slasher. What’s scariest about this genre is the killer’s all-encompassing presence, their steadfast, albeit slow pace, and their ability to appear from nowhere. These characters are scary because they represent, in a very hyperbolic way, the grim specter of death: slow, random, and sure to get you in the end.
Of course, with age and hindsight, slashers appear somewhat farcical. There’s the gory melodramatic kills that are tame and even hilarious to today’s audience that is counterbalanced to the unifying, laughable rule that, if you have sex or take your clothes off, you die. This is true even more so since today’s slashers are usually meta and comedic, like The Final Girls.
The Final Girls begins with the death of the main character Max’s mother, a has-been actress who starred in a cult-classic slasher, “Camp Bloodbath.” At a screening of the film, on the anniversary of her mother’s death, Max and her friends get sucked into the film and, in order to survive, have to deal with the rules and repercussions of being in a slasher.
In “Camp Bloodbath,” they meet classic slasher characters (the sex-obsessed jock, the nerdy girl with the guitar, the sexualized girl, etc.). The interplay between these well-worn slasher archetypes and the modern characters we get sucked into the film with is very refreshing and funny, especially because The Final Girls molds the modern characters into what could be called modern slasher characters. There is the bitch, the nerd who knows all of the rules, and of course, the virginal Final Girl. Because our main characters know so many of the rules, much of their time is spent trying to prevent the grisly deaths of the ignorant slasher archetypes. In one scene, the sexualized girl has to be put in a life jacket and oven mitts so she won’t perform a striptease, summoning the killer to the group. All of the modern counterpoints have to also have a buddy that they can prevent from having sex, which happens rather regularly in a slasher.
The one unifying archetype from classic to modern slasher, as well as being the mantle of success in a slasher, is the Final Girl. She is the survivor. Being or becoming the final girl becomes the central theme of the film. It’s a mantle some thrust onto Max, it’s one that Paula (“Camp Bloodbath’s” final girl) was born with, and it’s one that the other female characters give up being because they’ve had sex or choose other identities.
And yes, being a virgin is an important aspect to the Final Girl in a classical sense, but in The Final Girls it’s more meant to serve as the emotional background to Max’s grief over her mother’s death. When it comes to the car accident that killed her mother, Max was the survivor: she was the Final Girl.
The Final Girls succeeds on many levels. It’s stylish in that ‘80s throwback, Kung Fury kind of way (the final fight scene is particularly gorgeous and probably brilliant to see on the big screen). The film also boasts an impressive and impressively listenable score that riffs on the slasher sound while still sounding fresh (the Friday the 13th “ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha” is heavily featured). It’s also a hilarious movie in large part because of the cast, especially Thomas Middleditch, Angela Trimbur, and Alia Shawkat (who I nominate to be a part of the Harry Dean Stanton club, where no movie featuring her can be all that bad).
The Final Girls’ greatest success is that it is not only a meta-slasher with fresh comedic beats, but it also uses the slasher genre as a vehicle for overcoming survivor’s guilt. The film plays out as a traditional slasher, and when Max accepts being the final girl, she also relinquishes the grief and guilt of her mother’s death. For this alone, it’s a movie worth seeing.
So, whether you’re a lover of slashers and meta-slashers or just looking for an early Mother’s Day midnight movie to take your mom to, check out The Final Girls. If she isn’t into slashers, tell her it’s basically Terms of Endearment …
The Final Girls
dir. Todd Strauss-Schulson
Movie plays at Coolidge Corner on April 22nd and April 23rd, starting at 11:59pm both nights. Tickets are $11.25.
There will be a post-film Q&A with director Todd Strauss-Schulson via Skype, so bring your A-game questions!