“The Final Girls”
Sometimes hype pays off, as in last week’s “The Martian,” which everyone bet heavy was going to be awesome — a bet that paid off big-time at the box office. Other times, and this often happens with smaller, indie films, the hype isn’t really backed up by much. That’s kind of how I felt about “Wet Hot American Summer,” the faux-70’s summer camp farce that sent up that particular sub-genre so exactly that most of the actual comedy was lost. I also felt that way about this week’s eighties slasher version of “Summer,” a meta-comedy called “The Final Girls.” What has been touted as one of the funniest, smartest comedies of the year left me with a feeling best described as “eh.”
I actually had no intention of seeing “The Final Girls” this weekend, despite the fact that it’s been the talk of the indiegenre circuit and played big at various recent film festivals. I intended to see the “Peter Pan” prequel — succinctly titled “Pan,” but my schedule conspired to make that all but impossible.
I was excited to see that “Girls” was playing simultaneously in art house theaters across the country and on iTunes, but when it was over, I wonder if “Pan” might not have stirred more emotion.
“The Final Girls” isn’t a bad movie, by any means, it’s just too in love with its own premise, at the expense of everything else. The plot goes like this. On the anniversary of her mother’s tragic death in a car accident, Max Cartwright and friends reluctantly agree to attend the anniversary showing of “Camp Bloodbath,” the cheesy eighties horror movie that had starred the elder Cartwright when she was just starting out. When a freak mishap starts a fire in the theatre, Max and co. escape through the screen, finding themselves magically in the actual film.
No escape is possible and the story seems to be on loop, so there’s no choice but to let the mayhem play out. What they don’t realize is that their entrance into the story has changed the rules and a new set of circumstances has to play out in order for the movie to end. The title refers to the “final” girl who survives the mayhem in any of these kind of movies and lives to eventually kill the monster. Think Jamie Lee Curtis in “Friday the 13th” or that brunette nobody ever heard from again in “Nightmare on Elm Street.”
There were a few clever ideas in the movie. The concept is certainly interesting – kind of a “Pleasantville” meets “Halloween,” but, unlike “Pleasantville,” “Girls” never fully commits. Some of it is funny, and I liked the flashback sequence, where our heroes find themselves thrown into the black & white backstory of the killer — forced to follow the literal narrative of the film rather than be full participants in it. Actress Taissa Farmiga is a little bland, but overall I liked the actors. They just don’t have enough to do. Alia Shawkat, hilarious as Mabe on “Arrested Development” does her best, but the character has no substance beyond a few throwaway jokey lines. Farmiga and Malin Ackerman have an interesting mother/daughter relationship going, with Ackerman playing scream queen Nancy Cartwright. That’s one aspect of the film I thought worked at least passingly well.
Where “Girls” fails is in the writing. The movie is never as clever as it thinks it is, although I guess you could argue that cardboard characterizations and a cheap aesthetic are intentional in a crazy meta way. I never cared about any of the characters, and despite arriving on the scene with foresight and modern movie knowledge aplenty, no one ever seemed to take advantage of the storyline. It’s like an interesting “what if” scenario where, in the end, nothing is different.
There was a lot of talk comparing this film to both “Scream” and “The Cabin in the Woods,” and, while I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a bad film, it doesn’t hold a candle to either of the previously mentioned. I’m not a fan of horror movies today, but I watched them in the period this is set. They’ve got the look down, and the archetypes, though broad caricatures here, ring true, at least a little.
In the end, “The Final Girls” is a hollow shell – interesting premise but nothing going on inside. Grade: C+