Film Season Review: Catch a slice of meta-horror comedy as THE FINAL GIRLS plays at Film4 Somerset House season

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

15 | 1h 28min | Comedy, Horror | 9 October 2015 (USA)

Playing Film4 Somerset House open air cinema season

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Scream meets The Last Action Hero in Director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s bloody, sweetly charming, and uber self-aware horror pic THE FINAL GIRLS, which plays at this year’s annual Film4 Somerset House open air cinema season (the film itself screens on 13 August). Though it played at the 2015 Toronto, SXSW and Sitges Film Festivals, audiences in the UK haven’t really had the chance to see The Final Girls here on the big screen, it having only played once before in cinemas at the Glasgow Youth Film Festival. But one of the Somerset House season programmers is a big horror buff, and felt that it was a really unjustly overlooked gem that should have got more love and attention. 

Seen projected on a big screen, late at night with a beer in hand, is probably the best way to enjoy the film, as despite the movie being a dissection of some of the most notable - and notorious - aspects of the horror genre, it is really more interested in having fun and pleasing a crowd. You don’t have to be a horror aficionado to get what the film is digging at either, most people who have some familiarity with the genre, especially its slasher offspring, know at least some of the key elements. Or as the kids in Wes Craven’s hugely influential Scream movies like the call them: “the rules”. And one of the key slasher rules, certainly the one that The Final Girls is most interested in exploring (and which has provoked a mountain of debate in fan and academic circles), is the truism that only the virgin can survive. 

The "final girl" here is Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga), the teenaged daughter of deceased actress Amanda (Malin Akerman (Watchmen) who for all her career - much to her frustration - remained best known for her role as the noble serial killer victim Nancy in a Friday the 13th-style slasher favourite called Camp Bloodbath. Under pressure from her somewhat intense horror junkie friend Duncan, Max reluctantly agrees to attend a nostalgic fan screening of the film with friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), her teen crush and school hunk Chris (Alexander Ludwig) and the bitchy prom queen-esque Vicki (Nina Dobrev). Of course, this mismatched high school-aged quartet perfectly fits the bill of the exact kind of target that a gruesome serial killer would be just happy to stalk and hack to bits. And that is exactly what happens when, at the screening, a fire causes Max and her cohort to instinctively try to cut their way out of the panicked crowd through the cinema screen where the Camp Bloodbath film is being projected…only to find themselves literally falling into the world of the movie itself. They emerge into a cheery summer camp complete with totem poles, cabins and a group of camp guides who all fit the specific stereotypes of clueless, oversexed slasher victims. And lurking around the corner is a masked killer with the mandatory giant rusty machete. 

Cue lots of attempts by these two gangs of “types” to negotiate the ins and outs of the classic “summer camp slasher” - which is the kind of trash movie Camp Bloodbath is - as they desperately try to stop the various scantily-clad and intellectually-challenged female camp guides from having spontaneous sex with the resident testosterone-filled jock, whilst also trying to figure out how to turn the tables on the killer. There’s lots of gurning, pratfalls and various gags made at the expense of the hyper-stereotyped characters whilst the overall vibe remains total 80s, with the film shot and dressed in colours that pop: think lots of cheerleader-gear yellows and reds. Still, the screenplay doesn’t quite pack in as many funny/smart beats as you might hope for, and its hard not to feel the whole affair would’ve felt more fresh and sharp if Craven’s postmodern meta-murder franchise hadn't got there first. The film is more affectionate than funny, and it certainly isn't remotely scary or even that bloody.

What the script (written by Joshua John Miller and M.A. Fortune) does manage more effectively is working in a few neat visual riffs on the nature of existence inside a strip of celluloid, such as the gang realising they can trigger “horror flashbacks” by reciting the tale of the birth of the serial killer, which causes their surroundings to melt into a black and white warp (because, of course, horror origin tales take place in black and white), and also there is a surprisingly poignant relationship built up between Max and scream queen victim Nancy. Nancy of course is the exact spitting image of Max's long-dead mother, giving the younger daughter a chance at saying a final goodbye, though this is a second chance overshadowed by the grim realisation that Max might have watch her “Mother” die again in front of her. Max’s attempt to reconnect with her mom co-exists with her self-aware acceptance of her own role as the final girl of this piece (though the film doesnt seem to entirely know where to finally park this lighthearted critique of that tendency), with all the ass-kickery that entails. So you get a bit of empowerment along with all the meta musings.

The Final Girls plays at Film4 Summer Screen as part of a double-bill with Galaxy Quest on Saturday 13th August. Guest tickets for the double-bill are available upon request.

FILM4 SUMMER SCREEN AT SOMERSET HOUSE runs from August 4th-17th. This year’s season includes three UK premieres – Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things To Come starring Isabelle Huppert screens as opening night; Pedro Almodóvar makes his third appearance at Summer Screen to introduce his new film Julieta on August 10th; and closing night will be Cannes award-winner Captain Fantastic starring Viggo Mortensen. The season also includes classic and contemporary films including Sunset Boulevard, Funny Face, Walkabout, Girlhood and a classic film from Stanley Kubrick (to be determined by a Best of Ten audience vote). Full details here.

Read more  of what Todd Strauss-Schulson had to say about THE FINAL GIRLS at this special blog he wrote for Film4.com - http://blog.film4.com/todd-strauss-schulson-on-the-final-girls/.

 

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Owen Van Spall

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