Mark Reviews Movies

The Final Girls


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Alia Shawkat, Nina Dobrev, Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for horror violence, some crude and sexual material, language and drug use)

Running Time: 1:28

Release Date: 10/9/15 (limited)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 9, 2015

It takes a certain level of daring to establish an intriguing premise, only to shut it down completely before it has a chance to really get started. The first several minutes of The Final Girls do just that, as we're introduced to a struggling actress of a certain age who has been unable to escape her most famous role. It didn't bring her much fame, either—just enough for casting directors to give her a second look and declare that they're certain they know her from somewhere.

That's when they usually figure it out. She played the shy, guitar-playing virgin who gets killed immediately after the character has sex in that slasher movie from a couple of decades ago. They'll let her know if they need to see her again. They usually don't.

Amanda, the actress here, is played by Malin Akerman, who is as convincing as the washed-up performer of a certain age as she is as Nancy, the youthful camp counselor who is murdered by the slasher as soon as she takes off her uniform. The former character holds far more promise, but the screenplay by Joshua John Miller and M.A. Fortin is more concerned with the latter. Hence, the actress character is killed off as quickly as the counselor character when she decides to let her hormones take control.

That's the daring part, of course. The move also announces the movie's intentions or, better, its disinterest in looking at horror movies from a certain perspective. Amanda represents something a little too real for the movie's taste, but Nancy is right up its alley.

We see the trailer for the fictional 1986 horror movie in which Amanda appeared as Nany in this movie's opening moments, and it's exactly the sort of broad, intentionally bad junk that makes for an easy joke. It's a parody of a parody, really—a self-satisfied, superior takedown of the obvious foibles and, when those run out, perceived faults of an imagined movie from yesteryear.

It's telling that there's only one character here who actually likes this movie-within-the-movie, and even he only likes it ironically—mainly for its gruesome kill scenes, which are, oddly, almost non-existent here. By this movie's estimation, the fake Camp Bloodbath possesses two fatal flaws: 1.) It's old and, hence, outdated, and 2.) it's self-evidently bad. Miller and Fortin may have accidentally stumbled across a pointed observation about the future of film criticism and analysis. Any movie made before a person was born is irrelevant, and therefore, it's only worth watching for some condescending laughs.

Prove me wrong, future film critics. No, seriously, please prove me wrong.

After the false start, the real premise begins with Amanda's teenage daughter Max (Taissa Farmiga) agreeing to attend a screening of her late mother's movie as a special guest. Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), the ironic fan (who prefers the sequel, because, well, it was made after he was born), is hosting the sold-out event. Max's best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), her crush Chris (Alexander Ludwig), and his ex-girlfriend Vicki (Nina Dobrev) are there, too.

A fire breaks out in the theater, and Max leads her friends and acquaintances through the screen to escape the blaze. Instead, they wind up inside the movie itself, and the movie, by means of an infinite 90-or-so-minute time loop (a clever conceit that's dismissed immediately), insists that they participate in the proceedings.

The characters within the slasher movie are hyper-clichés. Kurt (Adam DeVine) is the dense, horny dude who insults everyone. Tina (Angela Trimbur) is the young woman of loose morals who, later, has to have her hands kept in oven mitts to prevent her from stripping off her clothes. Paula (Chloe Bridges) is the first to be killed by the vengeful, masked murderer after she has sex with a stranger, and Blake (Tory N. Thompson) is the geek.

Then there's Nancy, who is but isn't Max's mother, and somewhere between the obvious jokes about awful dialogue, unnecessary slow-motion, and extended flashbacks (all by the screenplay's own design, of course) exists a disarmingly touching story about a daughter reaching out to a deceased parent who is and isn't right there in front of her. There's a little of her mother in Nancy, obviously, and the way Max takes on a maternal role for this fictional woman, who is and isn't her mother, is genuinely amusing and sweet.

The primary thrust of The Final Girls is rarely convincing, though. Some of that is in director Todd Strauss-Schulson's approach, which, with its camera gymnastics and overly bold palette, is too polished by half for the movie-within-the-movie to come across as the brand of schlock he's trying to recreate (again adding to a feeling of superiority over material that the movie claims to respect—or at least like). Most of the issues belong to the movie's limited comic repertoire, which once again proves that awareness and acknowledgment of clichés does not translate into fully- or even half-formed satire of them.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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