Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson and written by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, The Final Girls is the story of a young woman who is transported back in time to 1986 where she meets her late mother at a film set for a slasher film where they deal with a serial killer. The film is a comedy-horror film that sort of spoofs the slasher films while it also play into the clichés that are often expected as a young woman teams with her mother to break those rules. Starring Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Adam DeVine, Thomas Middleditch, Alia Shawkat, Alexander Ludwig, and Nina Dobrev. The Final Girls is a witty and inventive film from Todd Strauss-Schulson.
Three years after the death of her mother who was a film star of a famous slasher film in the 1980s, a young woman attends a screening of that film with her friends as a fire breaks out and they find themselves in the movie as they deal with the killer in the film but also other things as they become characters in that film. It is a film that is a spoof of sorts of slasher films where a group of people find themselves in a slasher movie with all of its bad dialogue, stereotypical characters, and everything that is expected as they find themselves being part of the film. The film’s screenplay by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller is straightforward as it play into these five college students who attend a revival screening that goes wrong and then become part of the movie they’re supposed to watch. One of the students in Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga) is still dealing with the death of her mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) three years earlier in a car accident that Max had survived as she is reluctant to attend the screening of the film Camp Bloodbath as it was a film that Amanda was famous for but never did anything noteworthy afterwards.
Upon entering the film, Max and her friends including her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), Gertie’s stepbrother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch) who is a horror fanatic, Chris (Alexander Ludwig), and Chris’ bitchy ex-girlfriend Vicki (Nina Dobrev), whom Max had been estranged from, all witness the events of the film as Duncan comments on what is happening as the character Amanda played in Nancy was someone who doesn’t survive in the film as the final girl is Paula (Chloe Bridges). Yet, things don’t go by the narrative due to the presence of Max and her friends as they all have to deal with the machete-wielding killer Billy Hopkins (Daniel Norris) as the script also feature exposition about why Hopkins kills people via flashback.
Todd Strauss-Schulson’s direction does have some style as it play into the style of 80s slasher films though it also maintains a straightforward visual style as it is shot on location in locations in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The film starts off with a young Max waiting for her mother returning from an audition as they deal with mounting bills leading to the accident that would kill Amanda as that scene and several others are presented in a straightforward manner in its compositions including some wide and medium shots as well as close-ups. The scene where the movie theater gets burned leaving Max and her friends to escape into the film screen is an inventive moment where Strauss-Schulson shows what happens and then the film changes. The moment where Max and her friends become part of Camp Bloodbath starts off as funny with its clichéd characters and setting as they then become part of the film. Even as they find themselves waiting for the van arrive and then it would arrive again 92 minutes later as it sets up the tone of the film.
Strauss-Schulson also maintains a certain visual style for the scenes of Camp Bloodbath and how Max and her friends would interact with those characters as it does play into these slasher film clichés with the flashback sequence presented in black-and-white. The approach to humor is offbeat as it play up the clichés including a scene where the hot counselor in Tina (Angela Trimbur) discovers Vicki’s pills and things go hilariously wrong. The film’s climax is typical of slasher films but there’s also these moments that do subvert expectation as it relates to Max and her connection with Nancy who becomes aware of the stereotype she plays. Yet, Strauss-Schulson also play up the idea of the final girl and adds something different to raise the stakes for everyone in the film within a film. Overall, Strauss-Schulson crafts a witty and exhilarating film about a young woman and her friends entering themselves into a 80s slasher movie starring that young woman’s mother.
Cinematographer Elie Smolkin does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it is more low-key and naturalistic for the scenes in Max’s world while the colors are more vibrant in the interior/exterior scenes in the day for Camp Bloodbath along with some stylish lighting for scenes at night. Editor Debbie Berman does excellent work with the editing as it has some style that play into rhythmic cuts for the suspenseful moments in the film as well as some stylized slow-motion as it adds humor to the film. Production designer Katie Byron, with set decorator Rachael Ferrera and art director Alexi Gomez, does amazing work with the look of the camp as well as some of the way the rooms are as it play into the 1980s aesthetics. Costume designer Lynette Meyer does fantastic work with the costumes that also play up to the look of the 1980s for the camp counselors as it isn’t afraid to look and be cheesy.
Special effects makeup artist Elvis Jones does terrific work with some of the design of the gore as well as it doesn’t just play to the conventions of horror but also for laughs. Visual effects supervisors David Lebensfeld, Grant Miller, and Matthew Poliquin do wonderful work with the visual effects whether it’s in some backdrops for scenes in a car or to create something that feels cheesy to play up the humor. Sound designer Lewis Goldstein does superb work with the sound in creating some unique sound effects that play to conventions of slasher films along with elements in how music sounds from a stereo and other sparse moments. The film’s music by Gregory James Jenkins is incredible for its 80s-inspired score with elements of eerie orchestral pieces and synthesizer-based music as the latter is something typical of 80s slasher films where there are these fun elements while music supervisor Susan Jacobs creates a fun soundtrack that features pieces from Warrant, Bananarama, Wang Chung, the Chordettes, the Cold Crush Brothers, Bleachers, Toni Basil, and Kim Carnes.
The casting by Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Lauren Gros as the hippie chick Mimi, Reginald Robinson as a hunky hiker Mimi hopes to have sex with, Eric Carney as the young Billy from the flashback, Tory N. Thompson as a camp counselor that Gertie flirts with, Chloe Bridges as the cool virgin in Paula who is the final girl in Camp Bloodbath, and Daniel Norris as the killer in Camp Bloodbath in Billy Murphy who wears a mask and wields a machete. Angela Trimbur is fantastic as the slutty camp counselor Tina who always wear skimpy clothing and becomes even more animated due to Vicki’s pills while Adam DeVine is superb as the douche-bag Kurt who claims to have a big dick and thinks he’s all that to the point that he annoys Chris for being a misogynistic douchebag.
Thomas Middleditch is excellent as the horror film fanatic Duncan who revels in being in the film as he comments on everything around him as he ends up annoying everyone. Alia Shawkat and Nina Dobrev are brilliant in their respective roles as Gertie and Vicki with the former being Duncan’s stepsister and a friend of Max as she is aware of what is going on while trying to be the sensible one of the group while the latter is a bitchy student who is possessive towards Chris as it adds to her estrangement from Max where Dobrev is also someone who is eager to get things done. Alexander Ludwig is amazing as Chris as a longtime friend of Max who also has feelings for her as he tries to help her while also doing what he can to ensure that he and his friends survive.
Taissa Farmiga is great as Max Cartwright as a young student still dealing with the death of her mother as she finds herself in her mother’s film as she copes with the presence of her mother’s character as well as the desire for both of them to survive which includes dealing with Billy Murphy. Finally, there’s Malin Akerman in an incredible performance as Amanda Cartwright/Nancy with the former being an actress struggling to find work despite her infamy for the film she’s famous for while being this upbeat counselor that is hoping to get laid and fit in only to learn that she doesn’t make it in the film where Akerman displays that sense of uncertainty but also a woman who realizes the choices she has to make.
The Final Girls is a remarkable film from Todd Strauss-Schulson that features great performances from Malin Akerman and Taissa Farmiga. Along with its ensemble cast, fun music soundtrack, and playing up the many clichés of slasher films with biting humor and offbeat suspense. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to be funny in making fun of slasher films but also with its heart as it has a group of people being part of a slasher film as they figure out how to survive but also change the rules. In the end, The Final Girls is a marvelous film from Todd Strauss-Schulson.
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