When it comes to the slasher genre these days, I prefer self-aware and funny (Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, Cabin in the Woods) over gritty and gory (the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street remakes). So, the upcoming meta-comedy Final Girls sounds like the absolutely perfect movie for me: It’s about a girl (Taissa Farmiga) and her friends (Nina Dobrev, Thomas Middleditch, Alia Shawkat) going to see a screening of her recently deceased actress mother’s (Malin Akerman) career-defining slasher movie from the 80s which they somehow end up getting sucked into ala Last Action Hero, Pleasantville and Stay Tuned.
The idea for Final Girls comes from screenwriters M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Mill, who really had to stick with it since their script floated around Hollywood beginning in 2008 before Sony picked up worldwide distribution on it in 2014. I first wrote about Final Girls back when Sony’s acquisition of the script was first announced, and ever since then I’ve been observing from afar, wondering when we would finally get to see this. When director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kuma Christmas) wrapped production in May 2014, there seemed to be no sign of when they’d land a release date, and the same was still true when the movie made its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March 2015. By the time it made its next festival appearance at the Stanley Film Festival in May, I briefly looked into simply making the trip to Estes Park, Colorado to attend the Festival for the sole purpose of getting to see Final Girls. Yeah, it turns out that the Stanley Film Festival is not cheap. So, clearly, that didn’t happen nor was I at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June, but the end result is that a lot of festival-goers have already seen Final Girls at this point. For those of us who haven’t, here’s the first trailer:
What the people who’ve seen the movie say is that while the trailer captures the basic premise and fun-with-genre zaniness of the film it hides the character drama and surprising depth, especially how the emotional throughline is really a girl getting the most bizarre way possible to see her dead mother again (even if it is just a fictional character who looks like her mom). At the very least, getting to see the trailer does at least answer some questions I had about the premise, like would any of the characters from the Friday the 13th pastiche actually know they’re in a movie (apparently not) and would there be a Last Action Hero/Purple Rose of Cairo moment where the fictional characters step off the screen into the real world (if so, they’re not giving it away). I think it looks great, and the corn syrup and slow motion jokes really got me. I’m especially intrigued to see why exactly things turn to black and white for a section of the story (Is it because the movie they’re trapped in had some kind of extended flashback in black and white?).
Here’s what ConsequenceOfSound had to say about Final Girls after SXSW:
The Final Girls is just as funny as it is thoughtful. DeVine is excellent, as is Middleditch as the Jamie Kennedy-in-Scream character, the guy who has the movie-within-the-movie so figured out that anything unexpected earns a response that’s less panicked than full of glee and mirth. That’s to say nothing of the interplay between Dobrev, Shawkat, and Farmiga, who hit on the primal emotions of women who grew up friends and were slowly split apart by the harsh realities of adulthood, some faster than others. That’s what makes The Final Girls such a treat, the way in which it seamlessly juxtaposes guffaws with a massive heart. Where Camp Bloodbath was the good kind of bad, this is just the great kind of good.
The Final Girls opens on October 9 in limited release on VOD.
As a bonus, here’s a truncated version of a Los Angeles Times article describing the screening and Q&A after session from the SXSW premiere:
Taking the stage at the Paramount Theater to introduce [Final Girls], Janet Pierson, head of SXSW Film, said that the room itself played into the festival’s selection process, for the energy and excitement that generates among the crowd.
“I love seeing movies here. Things play great,” she said. “And as we’re programming we look for stuff that we know will really be particularly fun and beautiful here.”
“Final Girls” director Todd Strauss-Schulson recalled seeing the premiere of Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” at the Paramount during the festival in 2009.
“It was the greatest thing, I waited on line for like two hours and smoked weed with strangers,” he said to cheers. “Then the movie played and people lost their [minds], they were laughing and cheering, they were a bunch of cinephile maniacs, loving that movie. It was the best vibe for me and it reminded me why I love movies so much, sitting in a room full of you lunatics.”
Before the movie started he added, “Whenever I would lose my way or forget what it was I was trying to pull off or what it was for or the energy I wanted, I would, genuinely — this sounds cheesy — but I would genuinely think back to ‘Drag Me to Hell,’ that moment, in that room and how … cool that was. So for me, right now, this is incredible.”
[Final Girls]’s knowing, playful sensibility toward horror movies — who dies, when and why, how to survive — went over well with the audience, which laughed and cheered throughout much of the show. It played like a party, and that continued with a freewheeling Q&A afterward.
After the screening, Strauss-Schulson and one of the film’s two co-writers, M.A. Fortin (co-writer Joshua John Miller was not there), introduced the cast. Out came Farmiga, Akerman, Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, Alia Shawkat, Nina Dobrev, Alexander Ludwig, Angela Trimbur and Tory Thompson.
The group seemed to really be enjoying themselves, with an infectious camaraderie (and beer being passed around) among them. Strauss-Schulson noted that was exactly what he was hoping for in assembling the large ensemble.
“It was a really young cast, the roles are really funny, I wanted everyone on the movie to be 35 or younger.” And with that Akerman, 36, jokingly started to walk off stage. “I wanted a very young, fun group. So it felt like we were thrown into a camp and it just felt like we were getting away with something.”
Another question specifically asked about how the movie dealt with its female characters and the horror genre — an early question referred to “the crushing of the tropes” — in a positive way.
Fortin specifically referenced the work of Carol J. Glover, who coined the term “final girl” in the 1992 book “Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.”
“Horror movies are the only movies where men actually identify with a female,” Fortin said. “There’s no other genre where men will identify with a woman. And if I was a woman that would scare … me. So when we set out to write this, about final girl tropes and the idea of the final girl, we wanted to makes sure as goofy and crazy as it could be, we wanted to make sure their real relationships were as grounded as possible and the people were real.”
Someone asked if the movie within the movie had a different original ending than what is seen once the characters from “The Final Girls” enter its universe.
The audience briefly chattered about what would be, in genre movie parlance, considered “canon.”
“Let’s not poke holes, OK?” said DeVine. “We all enjoyed it.”