Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #626
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 9, 2015
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Producers: Michael London, Janice Williams
Screenplay: M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller
Special Effects: Elvis Jones
Visual Effects: David Lebensfeld, Matthew Poliquin, Grant Miller
Cinematography: Elie Smolkin
Score: Gregory James Jenkins
Editing: Debbie Berman
Studios: Groundswell Productions, Studio Solutions, Ulterior Productions
Distributors: Stage 6 Films, Vertical Entertainment
Stars: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Åkerman, Thomas Middleditch, Alia Shawkat, Alexander Ludwig, Adam DeVine, Nina Dobrev, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson, Reginald Robinson, Lauren Gros, Daniel Norris, Eric Carney
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Bananarama “Cruel Summer”
 The Chordettes “Lollipop”
 Kim Carnes “Bette Davis Eyes”
I have a dream. That one day the slasher movie will make a spirited comeback and become the force of nature it was for just a few years back in the eighties. While I consider myself a horror aficionado first and foremost, it was this particular movement that shepherded me through my adolescence and provided the lion’s share of my thrills and spills until it eventually fell out of favor and disappeared from the multiplexes seemingly overnight. Hardly the most highbrow of sub-genres, it nevertheless followed a strict code of practise, adhering to certain rules and regulations that became synonymous with the breed. When it fell by the wayside around the middle of the decade, a large void was left in its absence, and has been there ever since. Every now and then it threatens a brief resurgence, although the nature of the beast has changed when it does, and I guess that’s just evolution for you.
To be fair, the formula is woefully dated now, and the threat of AIDS has long since been nullified so engaging in pre-marital sex really ought not prove a deciding factor any more. But there’s still plenty about slasher that I wouldn’t change. It effectively boils down to a group of fun-loving co-eds pitted against a masked marauder, whose sole motivation is to make them die in the most imaginative manners possible. That’s it in a nutshell, 80-90 minutes of search and destroy with precious little to distract us from the task at hand. A token black guy is necessary, as are at least one serving of pinheaded slut and one obnoxious jock, but the most vital component in virtually any slasher worthy of its salt is the all-important final girl. Nothing personal guys but the ladies just shriek all that more passionately and it’s the whole reason scream queens became commonplace. You see, if there’s one body part critical to the slasher cycle, then it’s actually the lungs.
It doesn’t take a genius to suss out that Todd Strauss-Schulson watched a whole lot of slasher flicks back in the day as they provide the thesis for his meta-style homage, The Final Girls, which takes one look at convention before enthusiastically shaking the soda. Perched in development limbo for five long years, New Line Cinema were originally looking to bear its torch, before Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions put their money where their mouths were and agreed to take the project forward. However, they did have one stipulation and it turned out to be a significant one as Strauss-Schulson aimed at a PG-13 rating and hit the target dead centre. Had it received a widespread theatrical release, then this logic wouldn’t seem nearly as skewed, but the fact that it never made it that far makes the powder puff approach facilitated much ado about nothing.
“Oooh, I love legends! Loch Ness, Bigfoot, Bon Jovi… all of ’em!”
That said, The Final Girls has a handful of other critical factors in its favor. The first is a sense of fun, and let’s face it, that’s why we’re here right? It pays affectionate tribute to its inspirations and roots and upholds that sense of care-free whateverness that made eighties slashers such low-key joys to behold. The second is a bloated cast of teens for the terrorizing, some of whom possess smarts and others not so, but all fair game to the hulking juggernaut looking to trim the numbers. The third is a winning sense of humor, something no slasher worth its salt should be without as it makes up for any lack of rocket science on exhibit. However, the most pleasing thing about Strauss-Schulson’s good-time game of death is that it manages to forge a genuine emotional connection with its audience and deal with the very real topic of the loss of our personal heroes. Let’s not twist the machete in its freshly formed cavity, it’s hardly the stuff of scholarship, but there is a heart beating within and this sees it good once our 91 minutes is up.
One of several potential final girls is Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga), a young girl still reeling from the sudden and tragic loss of her actress mother, Amanda (Malin Åkerman), who just so happened to be eighties scream queen royalty. We pick up three years down the line and, after being gradually worn down and emotionally blackmailed to within an inch of her life, she reluctantly agrees to attend a private screening of the infamous Camp Bloodbath and its sequel, Camp Bloodbath 2: Cruel Summer as a double-bill at a local movie house.
Along with her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), dashing secret crush Chris (Alexander Ludwig). Gertie’s stepbrother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), and estranged former bestie Vicki (Nina Dobrev), she puts in an appearance, even though this particular series put her mother on the map to nowhere credible in the first place. They take their seats, the projectionist flicks the switch, and the already raucous crowd are instantly enraptured.
That is until something occurs that plunges the five friends into the firing line as they go from watcher to player in a heartbeat and become trapped within the very film they’re appraising. I’d pay good moolah to be transported to Camp Stonewater from Tony Maylam’s The Burning just to catch a sneaky glimpse of Sally in the shower cubicle, although I’d likely rue that decision by sundown.
“They won’t be singing Kumbaya… they’ll be screaming Kumba-no!”
Anyhoots, down at Camp Bluefinch, there are a rather particular set of rules to abide to in order not to lose your head. Attempting to deviate too far from the rigid template laid out will result in being dealt back in at the point of re-entry and, under no circumstances, are they permitted to disrespect a number of key plot devices. Of course, given that they’re effectively gate crashing the party of a certain machete-wielding man mountain named Billy Murphy (Dan B. Norris), all original cast members must also be present and correct and these comprise all the usual slasher stereotypes. However, Max’s mother also returns to her reprise her role as shy girl with the clipboard and guitar, Nancy, and this presents a whole different challenge as her fate appears already predestined to be sealed around the midpoint.
“If this is a dream, then there’s a very strong chance that my dad’s gonna come up to us naked and offer us some pecan pie. But don’t take any. It is not pecan pie!”
It doesn’t take long for the new guard to realize that shit just got real for them too and that the two groups will be required to work together in order to prevent the titular bloodbath. Alas, scruples aren’t high on the priority list with the scripted old-timers, as attested by resident horn dog Kurt (Adam DeVine) whose sole objective is to get laid and pretty headful of air Tina (Angela Trimbur) whose relevance here amounts to getting her top off and flashing those perky cans. The playful screenplay by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller takes every opportunity to extract humor from the resulting culture clash, culminating in a delightful scene where a soundly befuddled Tina struggles to cram a smart phone into a boom box cassette drawer, bemoaning its lack of holes.
Ultimately however, the rules of survival are as clear as they are unfortunate for those not in possession of an untarnished hymen – do the nasty and a considerably less pleasurable nasty will be done unto you courtesy of on-site nutbag Billy, who is getting increasingly antsy hanging back in the shadows waiting for the first bikini top to ping off. With Tina desperate to flaunt her assets as per her character arc, it is left to the others to dress her up in a life jacket and anti-slut mittens, while they plan their rearguard offensive.
“But why does he hate my boobs? Cuz they’re not big?”
There has to be a way of rewriting the script and stepping off this cruel carousel, and with Max and her pre-impregnation mother the only virgins on campus, the stage is set for some fairly uncomfortable decision-making as to who the final girl of this particular feature should be.
Strauss-Schulson is aided by some decidedly handsome cinematography from Elie Smolkin, which captures the lush greens of Camp Bluefinch at their most idyllic and douses them in sunlight, and Gregory James Jenkins, whose spritely electronic compositions incorporate analog synth for that extra eighties vibe and underscore any mild peril more than adequately. Meanwhile, the players are all on-point, with Shawkat especially pleasing as the girl preordained to make it to within sniffing distance of the closing act, and DeVine and Trimbur stealing every scene they’re in without having the vaguest idea they are doing so.
However, should The Final Girls be memorable beyond the 91 minutes it populates with a mesh of well-worn conventions and contemporary perspective, then it’s the mother-daughter dynamic explored that gifts it the legs. Farmiga and Åkerman share sweet, unforced chemistry and there’s plenty tragic about the quandary they find themselves in. The former is frantic to waylay the inevitable goodbye, while the latter is forced to accept some harsh realities that contradict her very existence. Without such emotional resonance, the film would be as hollow as the movies it emulates. That’s not to say dull and unrewarding, just slight and ultimately forgettable. Their performances anchor us in rather exquisitely.
Meta-exercises such as this have become an industry standard over the past few years but, where the likes of Eli Craig’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin In The Woods remain one hack and slash ahead of the game is that neither opt to skimp on the all-important bloodshed. Through no fault of his own and the studio’s shortsightedness, The Final Girls flunks hardest with regards to the dearth of splatter on the platter and almost feels like an extended TV pilot as a result of such a glaring omission. Nevertheless, if like me, you never actually vacated the decade being honored here, then that should be all the motivation required to take a trek down to Camp Bluefinch. Just remember to wear those mittens.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 1/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: I’m loathed for my grievances to boil down to a lack of grue and T&A but slasher movies were always about the easy-wins and The Final Girls misses a pretty fundamental trick by aiming at a wider audience that the film never even reached. The body count is certainly not found wanting and there’s plenty of bouncing boobs just aching to overstep the underwire and jiggle like eighties breasts jiggled. Regrettably, studio meddling means you’re unlikely to be catered for in this department. I remain wistful that it does like George Mihalka’s My Bloody Valentine and resurfaces for its thirty-year anniversary complete with six minutes of cuts spliced back in but fear I may just be having a “blonde moment” with this one.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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