Impulse Buy Theater - The Final Girls
Part 2 of a 2 part Impulse Buy Theater!!!
Last time…we talked about my going into a Best Buy wanting to buy “The Final Girls” and leaving with “Final Girl”. Upon learning of my mistake, I found out that the movie that I had sought to purchase wouldn’t be available for another 2 weeks. [So, in about half the time it takes you to get new content submitted for the site then. – Ed.] I sat through my mistake, which you can find here. Now, for the originally scheduled programming…
I want to tell you about what can only be described as a slasher with heart. “But that kind of stuff happens all the time in the genre,” I hear you say. “It’s like one of the coolest kills. The killer du jour either punches the victim so hard that the fist comes out the other side clenching the still beating heart of the victim or a bladed instrument is used to extract the organ in the goriest way possible.” And, strictly speaking, you would be right, oh voice in my head. But no, today, we’re looking at the only horror movie that I can recall that not only goes for the heart, but the heart strings as well, The Final Girls.
As much as I'd like to say that The Final Girls is like Last Action Hero crossed with Friday the 13th…when I type that I realize that kind of endorsement isn’t going to do this film justice because I’m one out of, what five, maaaaaybe 6 if we’re optimistic, on the planet that actually liked the movie. [Rotten Tomatoes has it at 38%, so, you know, it’s better than…um…I’ll get back to you. Hey, did you notice under ‘People who liked this also liked…’ it has Robocop 2, Masters of the Universe, Memiors of an Invisible Man and the Golden Child? All movies you like. And, thus, the internet has proven that you are indeed a sad, little man. – Ed.] It shares the premise, that being film viewers being pulled into the movie, but as I alluded to in the beginning, Final Girls really sells the emotional core of the story. [Then how about getting on with describing that core? – Ed.]
As the film opens, we meet our protagonist, Max and her mom, former star of the film ‘Camp Bloodbath’ (which I’m sure you can tell the genre of that film just by the title), Amanda Cartwright as played by Malin Akerman (more on this in a bit). There’s an accident on the way home from Amanda’s latest audition (that did not go well) and she perishes while Max survives. Fast-forward 3 years later and we find Max still grieving the loss when she’s approached by local slasher aficionado Duncan to appear at a screening of Camp Bloodbath. Initially resistant, she’s reluctantly convinced when Duncan offers to aid her in her Classics class, which she is failing. At the theater, we’re introduced to the rest of the gang, each one fitting into slasher tropes…so here’s the round-up: Max – our virgin, crushing on The Cute Guy and is the obvious candidate for Final Girl, Gertie – Best-Friend-Yet-More-Worldly-Than-The-Final-Girl, the constant source of encouragement that only late in the movie reveals that she’s less than pure and thus ends up being an “emotional” kill, Chris – The Cute Guy, football player, just broke up with The Mean Girl and has a thing for The Final Girl, Vicki – said Mean Girl, wants The Cute Guy back and is usually the most satisfying kill and Duncan – Horror Movie Expert and thus falling into the Too-Smart-For-Their-Own-Good trope. Through a series of mishaps, a fire starts during the screening and our group decides to cut their way through the movie screen and escape out the back of the theater…only to end up IN the movie…DUN DUN DUUUUNNNNNNN!
From here, we go into not only a wonderful love letter to the 80’s slasher genre but the emotional core of the movie as well. Upon entering the movie, Max finds her mom…but it’s not her mom, it’s Nancy – The Shy Girl With A Guitar And Clipboard (AKA the role Amanda played in the film). Max’s focus shifts from getting out of the movie to getting out of the movie with her mom still alive. While this aspect of the plot could be played very heavy-handedly, The Final Girls manages to do it with such a deft touch that I dare you not to at least tear up a little at some point in the film. I would learn later on when listening to the cast and crew commentary on the disc that the director himself had lost his father prior to making the film and that event had an impact on the film. Man, I mean, you don’t wish for any filmmaker to make that kind of sacrifice for his art…but the intangibles from that clearly show up in the finished film…maybe adding to the poignancy. [You’ve so far used ‘poignancy’, ‘perish’ and ‘aficionado’. STEP AWAY FROM THE THESAURUS! – Ed.]
As for that love letter to the slasher genre, portrayed here as ‘Camp Bloodbath’, it captures everything it needs to perfectly. Billy Murphy is the killer du jour and is a PERFECT emulation of Jason Voorhees. Seriously. If Jason had found a totem inspired mask instead of a hockey mask in Friday the 13th Part 3 [in 3D – Ed.], this is Billy…right down to the machete. Moving on to the camp counsellors, the victims du jour, we have Kurt – Beefy guy that needs to have sex with anything that has boobs and a pulse, Nancy - the aforementioned Shy Girl With A Guitar And Clipboard, Tina – Girl That Removes Her Clothes At The Drop Of A Hat, Blake – Nerdy Guy That (probably) Has Sex For All The Right Reasons But We’re Still In A Horror Movie So He’s Gotta Die (not helping that he’s black…we all know that trope too!) and lastly Paula, for whom it seems like they combined two tropes; The Tough Girl and The Final Girl. I separate the two because The Tough Girl trope usually stands up to the killer but ends up dying because, again, usually not ‘pure’…whereas The Final Girl usually starts off as anything BUT tough, then is forged through the crucible. Aside from that combination, Camp Bloodbath hits every single beat that it needs to…elevating The Final Girls into that Satire Heaven, where the homage and the ribbing meet in perfect balance. [Check out Black Dynamite for a Blaxploitation example of this. – Ed.]
I could sing this movie’s praises to an annoying degree…but we want you to actually watch the movie. That said, I did have one single problem with the film, Malin Akerman. Now, it’s not for anything mean. Honestly, the more I think about it, there really isn’t any way around what I’m going to criticize here. She’s perfect for playing the older Amanda Cartwright, but I simply couldn’t buy her as the younger Nancy. And none of that has anything to do with her acting. No, she’s perfectly fine in the role, it’s just that time is a harsh thing. Sure, that makes it sound like I’m being critical, but it’s not anything that anyone can help. Malin is 37 years old (thank you Wikipedia!) and that totally works for the older Amanda. And yes, she’s is still pretty damn hot. But there are physical differences between a younger, upper teens/low 20s woman and a thirties woman…and if you’re wearing 80s slasher camp counsellor attire, those differences are impossible to hide. [To be fair, most of those differences are in the face, neck, hands…the only one revealed by said attire would be legs…but still… - Ed.] Don't get me wrong, there's a long-standing tradition in 80s slasher films for thirty-somethings to play late teens/early twenty-somethings but for whatever reason, it did take me out of the movie a bit, and thus was worth mentioning here.
That said, even with that potentially major nit-pick, the emotional core of the movie stands unblemished. And as we come to the end of this gushing “Dammit, man (or woman), what are you waiting for, go and see this damn movie” review, while we’re shown that there is indeed a Camp Bloodbath 2 and since this film worked so well it’s only natural to want a sequel…well, I’m not so sure a sequel would be nearly as effective as this film is. It almost falls in the “it was so damn good, to touch it, to do ANYTHING more to it would be a crime” category.
Nah. Screw it. Gimme a sequel!
PS - Seeing Alexander Ludwig go from the sociopathic antagonist of Final Girl to The Cute Guy slasher archetype in The Final Girls was both interesting and jarring. As a high complement to the actor, couldn't have possibly been more different from one another. Kind of a strange link between the two movies, aside from their similar titles!