The Final Girls

Posted by Joel Copling on October 12, 2015

The surprisingly emotional core of "The Final Girls" is actually pretty simple and straightforward: The daughter must come to grips with her mother's death by entering into an allegorical head trip that sees her facing the death of the movie character her mother played twenty years ago. The screenplay by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller might load the scenario with a gimmick that doesn't fully make sense within the film's own logic (There is a bevy of questions, to be asked in a couple of paragraphs, raised by this gimmick and unanswered by the film itself), but it all comes down to whether the screenwriters are able to approach the emotional side with care. This film passes the test.

Three years after her mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) perished in a horrible car accident, Max (Taissa Farmiga in a strong, sympathetic performance) is still grieving. On the day that marks that anniversary, she's invited by some friends to commemorate her mother's most significant role in a movie to date--that of slasher fodder in the gloriously 80s-horror movie "Camp Bloodbath" (played in a double feature alongside its hospital-set sequel). A fire ignites in the theater and burns it down (There is a clever trick where the material instigators of the fire--a discreet bottle of wine and a cigarette lighter--seem to mirror the movements of similar objects within the movie-in-the-movie, suggesting some omnipotent power at work), but not before Max and her friends (Alexander Ludwig as Max' romantic interest Chris, Nina Dobrev as Chris' ex and Max' former best friend Vicki, Alia Shawkat as Max' newer best friend Gertie, and Thomas Middleditch as Gertie's step brother Duncan) are sucked into a glowing wormhole and the movie itself.

The rules to this gimmick are established with valiant efficiency by Fortin, Miller, and director Todd Strauss-Schulson: The movie in which the characters have found themselves plays on an endless loop. When our heroes see two of the movie-in-the-movie's characters, Kurt and Tina (Adam DeVine and a very funny Angela Trimbur), drive past as in the movie-in-the-movie's opening scene, they see it happen again 92 minutes later. When they and Nancy (Akerman in a dual performance as effectively the same person in different contexts, which the actress plays convincingly), the character played by Max' dearly departed, arrive at the camp in the movie-in-the-movie, the scene mostly plays out as normally as it would have, with a significant variation: The movie-in-the-movie must figure out what to do with Max and the others, as they are unknown quantities to the other characters.

Of course, this also raises those aforementioned, pesky questions. Answers are provided to other questions that are more relevant to the film in the moment, such as what might happen if the movie-in-the-movie's merciless killer (who was, of course, a young boy bullied and disfigured who rose up and killed those who harmed him and became an urban but very real legend in the process) was to come across our unknown-quantity quintet of protagonists (The answer is both predictable and unexpected) or what might become of the movie-in-the-movie's sole virginal survivor (the sardonic Paula, played by Chloe Bridges) if the circumstances were to be tweaked (and they certainly have been, given the structure has been thrown all out of wack). These are the fun questions to be asked, but the screenplay tends to ignore the bigger ones.

One has to realize that it doesn't much matter, though, whether the film follows its own sense of silly logic, because this is a very silly movie, indeed. Those bigger questions regarding its central gimmick and how it works (For instance, if flashbacks descend upon their subjects as metaphysical juice of sorts and a scene shot in black-and-white cinematography means the characters only see in black-and-white, why don't the Dutch angles of the film's climactic showdown throw our heroine's sense of gravity off-course?) become less crucial and more nitpicky the longer one thinks about it. Where "The Final Girls" succeeds is in applying an allegorical treatment of this very silly premise to a story that ultimately is about the grieving process, and that's not a pleasant surprise worth discarding easily.

Film Information

Taissa Farmiga (Max), Malin Akerman (Amanda/Nancy), Alexander Ludwig (Chris), Nina Dobrev (Vicki), Alia Shawkat (Gertie), Thomas Middleditch (Duncan), Adam DeVine (Kurt), Angela Trimbur (Tina), Chloe Bridges (Paula), Tory N. Thompson (Blake).

Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson and written by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller.

Rated PG-13 (horror violence, crude/sexual material, language, drug use).

88 minutes.

Released in select cities on October 9, 2015.