Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson.
2015. Rated PG-13, 91 minutes.
If you're a fan of slasher flicks, you've either spent time yelling at the people on the screen to do something different than what they're doing, or you've watched a movie with people who do. You've grown frustrated to the point of anger, or just laughed your ass off, when the girl running from the killer inexplicably, yet inevitably, falls down. You've watched in amazement as said killer displays he (or she) is capable of teleportation, moving from in front of to behind his prey in the time it takes the soon-to-be victim to turn around. What if you suddenly found yourself in a slasher flick? I don't mean like in Scream where events typical of one seem to transpire around Sydney and her friends. I mean literally being sucked into a movie as you're watching it. That's the predicament in which a handful of pals find themselves in The Final Girls.
Things start with Max (Farmiga), a girl who lost her mother three years earlier to a tragic car accident while they were in the car together. They were on their way home from an audition as mom, Amanda (Akerman) was a struggling actress. Her claim to fame was appearing in the 80s cult classic slasher flick Camp Bloodbath. On the anniversary of her death the local theater is showing the film and is sure to be attended the hordes of local devotees. One of those happens to be Duncan (Middleditch), a friend of Max's. He convinces her to make an appearance by promising to do all of her homework for the rest of the year. While watching the movie, the theater. In trying to escape the flames Max, Duncan, and several more of their friends cut and step through the screen. When they do, they find they have actually become part of Camp Bloodbath. All of the film's original characters are also present including Max's mother Amanda. Sort of. It's actually Nancy, the character she plays in the film. Everyone trying not to get murdered by Billy Murphy (Norris), the masked psycho of Camp Bloodbath, ensues.
Like the aforementioned Scream. The Final Girls is a spoof of slasher flicks. Unlike Scream, this one completely forgoes actual horror in favor of comedy and cleverness. It does both of those things very well, making it quite enjoyable to watch.The comedy, in fact, is derived from its cleverness. The cleverness comes from the jabs it takes at its biggest and most obvious target, the Friday the 13th series. That franchise's dialogue, look, and especially its philosophies, are all fair game. My favorite gag is the first time our heroes are whisked away to a flashback. It's the most magical moment in the film as neither the characters nor the viewer knows what's going on. When we find out, it's just brilliant. Later on, it becomes an overused plot device suffering from diminishing returns. Still, that first time is pure greatness.
Cleverness isn't only reserved for the gags, though. It also plays into the title. I don't think it will spoil anything to say there are, in fact, several final girls. I won't say who they all are, but I will say that the situation is very well handled. I don't think it quite reaches the emotional level its reaching for, but it definitely works. Like everything else here, it works largely due to some really good performances. Taissa Farmiga gives us a solid, easy to root for protagonist. Thomas Middleditch inhabits the role of film geek and shines even though he is absent for a huge chunk of the runtime. Adam DeVine gives us more of the shtick he brought to Pitch Perfect. It's not quite as good as it is there, but is still effective enough. The standout in the cast is Malin Akerman. In other roles she offers little more beyond being blonde and pretty. It's the same here except that's exactly what's needed to make this character work. She is a perfect match for Nancy and really sells it.
The complete lack of horror is what brings The Final Girls down a few pegs. That approach seems to stem from two places, one of which I've already mentioned. That one is its reliance on comedy. The other is its constant attempts to stuff its love for R-rated films into a PG-13 package. The result is a film mostly devoid of any real tension. We sit back and laugh, but we're not compelled by anyone on the screen. Kill scenes are played for laughs, and are largely bloodless. This means not being able to fully explore the possibilities of a Friday the 13th spoof. It's especially problematic when you consider many of us have already seen the heights a slasher spoof can reach. My beloved Scream injected genuine horror into the proceedings with killings that made the genre proud. Any humor derived from them is uncomfortable. More recently, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil did play its kills for laughs. However, it maintained the gore for which the genre is known. Sure, it's morbidly funny, but it snugly fits the subject matter. Another issue arising from the approach The Final Girls takes is one that affects many PG-13 slasher flicks. The stakes never feel high enough. It's really hard to believe our heroes are really in that much danger. A few events that happen along the way doesn't help that perception.
Thankfully, the good far outweighs the bad. At least, it does if you're a fan of Jason flicks and don't mind them being lovingly ridiculed. Those of us that qualify will have a number of deep belly guffaws and keep a fairly steady grin as we notice many of the things the film gets right. Others might groan and think it's just as stupid as the movies it's spoofing. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Final Girls is whip smart, really digging into genre tropes and extracting laughter. It manages to do this right through to the end. When we get there, it gives us what might be the best gag of them all. Any slasher flick worth its exceedingly sharp garden tool makes sure to leave the door open for a sequel. This movie does it in a way that makes so much sense you don't see it coming, if that makes sense.