I’ve been waiting to see Final Girl since I first heard about it a little over a year ago. It had a fun cast, an intriguing plot, and promised a new spin on my beloved horror sub-genre; slashers. And though it had made some festival rounds and there were pirated copies available online, I held off until it was finally released just a few days ago on VOD.
It was worth the wait. After It Follows, this has been my favorite genre release of the year. It gave me everything I expected and then much more after discovering just how smart and artistic the film actually is.
Final Girl is not really a straight forward horror film. In fact, it’s kind of hard to pinpoint just exactly what sun-genres the film falls into. A story about a young woman who has been trained her whole life to fight back against the darkest killers of the world, Final Girl is more of a meta-horror, noir-thriller with a slight art-house edge than it is just horror.
Styling is everything in the film. Through vintage chic costume design and sets, we’re taken to a darker-hued 1950’s America, where the boys are dapper and the girls are innocently beautiful. It’s all malt shops and slicked back hair here. Yet still, the film feels modern. The tone comes across more like Sin City than Pleasantville and the characters interact as modern youth do. There’s a really great balance between style and tone.
The cast may not be what you consider mainstream stars, but they’re not exactly unknowns either. Wes Bentley, who I enjoyed in the underrated Christmas slasher P2, stars as well as the beautiful and talented Abigail Breslin, who has been hard at work lately racking up some serious genre cred with Haunter, Maggie, and this fall’s TV series Scream Queens. The quartet of dashing lady killers is led by the hunkishly adorable Alexander Ludwig, but the three other boys (Cameron Bright, Reece Thompson, Logan Huffman) are given enough screen time, story, and character that they don’t fall easily as background characters.
The way the film was written and directed is smart and noticeably so. A clear effort is made in grounding the characters to reality an not making either the villains or heroine seem superhuman, like we’re just watching a horror version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They’re all very distinctly human. Breslin’s final girl is warned that all her training could easily be foiled by falling into a frozen lake, and the fights between the boys and she are not over-the-top or “spy movie” choreographed.
As I said, the genre of this film is complex. A casual horror fan may not conclude this as a horror film, rather an action thriller, but I disagree. Humans hunting humans, boys preying on women because they can, will always be a horrifying thing and the film revolves a lot around the theme of human fears, between final girls and serial killers alike. Of course, there’s also the few smart winks to us fans devoted to horror film mythology. When Breslin’s final girl, on the verge of starting this mission she may not come back from, attempts to knock the human goal of sex off her list by coming on to her trainer, he rebuffs her and mentions that they just can’t. Wink, wink. I got it. Because our final girls can only be virgins… or so the old rules used to say anyway.
The film has a few faults however, stopping me from loving it 100%. The attempt to create an actual film mythology is there in nearly giving Bentley’s character his own slasher backstory, among other things, but it mostly fails to stick. We know this final girl has been trained to fight back and kill the world’s human monsters, but we sadly don’t ever get an idea as to why or by whom. Similarly, this is the issue I took with It Follows, my other favorite genre film of the year.
At any rate, I’m definitely going to be carrying the torch for this film for probably the remainder of the year. I think all horror fans should catch it because it’s not only artistic and smart, but it’s also the best meta-horror I’ve seen since Cabin in the Woods. On the other hand, maybe let’s not rave about it so much. We all know what happens to these indie horror successes ahem::ItFollows2::.