Would you believe that there’s a film that not only brilliantly satirizes and pays homage to the old slasher films of 80s but which also possesses the type of emotional depth that can bring very real tears to your eyes as you watch?
Well, there is and the name of that film is The Final Girls.
In the 1980s, a struggling actress named Amanda Cartwright (played by the always-wonderful Malin Akerman) found a certain amount of cult fame by appearing as a doomed camp counselor named Nancy in the slasher film, Camp Bloodbath. However, as often happens, playing an iconic role in a horror film has turned out to be as much of a curse as a blessing. As The Final Girls opens, Amanda has just finished yet another audition. As she drives home, she tells her teenage daughter, Max (Taissa Farmiga) that she will never escape being typecast as Nancy. Suddenly. they are blindsided by another car. Max is the only survivor.
Three years later, Max reluctantly agrees to attend a showing of Camp Bloodbath and Camp Bloodbath II: Cruel Summer. It’s not something that she wants to do but she’s talked into it by Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), the geeky stepbrother of her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat). Also attending the showing is Chris (Alexander Ludwig), who Max has a crush on, and Chris’s ex-girlfriend and self-described “mean girl,” Vicki (Nina Dobrev).
Some of the best scenes in The Final Girls occur while Max watches Camp Bloodbath. Not only is Camp Bloodbath a perfectly pitched homage/satire of old school slasher films (like Friday the 13th, to cite an obvious example) but Farmiga perfectly plays Max’s reaction to seeing her mother on screen. Max watches Camp Bloodbath with a heartfelt mix of sadness, pride, and eventual horror. (One of the film’s best moments is the way that Max slowly sinks down in her chair while watching her mother make out with another actor on the big screen. It’s a very human moment, one that is both poignant and funny at the same time.)
However, during the showing, a fire breaks out. In their efforts to escape the theater, Max and her friends find themselves literally sucked into the movie. That’s right — they are now inside the world of Camp Bloodbath. And though they can interact with the film’s characters (and, for that matter, with the film’s killer, Billy), they find it’s much more difficult to keep those characters from playing out their pre-ordained roles. Even after explaining to the camp counselors that doing anything the least bit sexual will cause Billy to come out of the woods and kill everyone, the counselors still find themselves incapable of changing their stereotypical slasher film behavior. It’s not really their fault, of course. As Duncan mentions, they’re just “badly written.”
While the rest of her friends simply want to survive the movie and somehow get back home, Max wants to spend time with her mom. (Except, of course, Nancy isn’t really her mom. Instead, Nancy is a character that her mom played in a movie that made before Max was even born.) And you know what? The scenes between Taissa Farmiga and Malin Akerman brought very real tears to my eyes. The scenes between Max and Nancy (and Max and Amanda) are so heartfelt and so full of sincere emotion that they elevate the entire film.
Without the relationship between Max and Amanda, The Final Girls would be a very clever homage to the old slasher movies. But what that relationship, The Final Girls becomes one of the best films of the year.
On November 3rd, The Final Girls will be released on DVD and Blu-ray. Be sure to keep an eye out for it.
P.S. When I grow up, I want to be Malin Akerman.