I’m a sucker for a typical horror movie told from a different perspective. Scream, Cabin in the Woods and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon are a few of the more popular movies in this genre, but The Final Girls tends to lean more towards Midnight Movie or Camp Daze (aka Camp Slaughter) than those other options.
Let’s set this up: Max’s mother (Amanda) had a small role in an 80s slasher movie called Camp Bloodbath (it was basically Friday the 13th, much like Midnight Movie’s movie-within-a-movie was basically Texas Chain Saw Massacre). Twenty-to-thirty years later, she was still trying to make it as an actress, but was hamstrung by her appearance in this campy horror film. On her way back from yet another audition she likely wouldn't get the part for, she and Max get in a car accident and Amanda dies.
Three years later, Max is still dealing with her mother’s death. The school she is attending is showing Camp Bloodbath on the big screen and Max is pressured into making an appearance. During the movie, a fire breaks out in the theater, and Max – along with a handful of her friends – find the only escape is by cutting through the screen and going through a door in the back. By doing this, they somehow find themselves having been pulled into the movie. When Max comes across her mother, she is not actually Amanda; she is Nancy, her character in Camp Bloodbath. Duncan – the movie geek – proclaims that they shouldn’t mess with the events of the movie, but to let everything play out exactly like it’s supposed to. “Don’t think of them as people,” he says. “Think of them as animals in a nature preserve.” Of course, they find that is not necessarily the case. (Duncan naturally knows all the lines in the movie, so he gleefully quotes lines these characters are saying in front of him and gets giddy at the prospect of their impending death.)
Since our characters are inside the movie, there is a lot of playing around with movie conventions (my personal favorite is the flashback scene). There are a lot of laughs, as people from the modern age are forced to interact with horror movie stereotypes from the 80s (the conversations between Chris and Kurt absolutely killed me).
But what really drew me in was the surprisingly strong emotional core. Throughout the film, we see how the death of Amanda has absolutely devastated Max. Now, Max has another chance to spend time with her mother (even though Nancy is not technically her mother; rather she is the character that her mother played in Camp Bloodbath). From the scenes we saw of Max and Amanda, it seems like Max was the responsible one in that relationship. That carries over here, but we also get a chance to see Nancy play a bit of a motherly role for Max. It's remarkably sweet and heartbreaking. Taissa Farmiga and Malin Akerman played their roles perfectly. It never felt forced or manipulative. It felt real.
The writing was great and the entire cast was tremendous. With the exception of a couple of the characters in Camp Bloodbath, all of the characters here felt real (and those characters only lacked depth because they were playing one-note stereotypes in an 80s slasher film). There was a depth behind them that I wasn't expecting. That helped some of the jokes to land, but it also helped me to feel more connected to them. When they die - and most of the do die - I was sad. We pulled back the curtain of slasher films and found that maybe we shouldn't root so hard for some of the unlikable characters to die; maybe they aren't as terrible as they appear to be at first blush.
I had a few issues with this, but all of those issues are minimal compared to what I loved about it. This movie was smart, hysterical and more emotional than I would have thought.
Notable actors: Malin Akerman, Taissa Farmiga, Nina Dobrev, Thomas Middleditch, Alia Shawkat, Adam DeVine