'The Final Girls'
‘The Final Girls’ proves that a clever premise can only get you so far. The movie promises to be delightful pisstake on ’80s slasher movies with ideas pulled from ‘Last Action Hero’ (don’t worry, only the good ones). At times, it’s quite funny, but unfortunately the single joke premise can only stretch so far and the filmmakers’ commitment to a PG-13 rating ensures that it’s never truly a slasher homage.
Things kick off with a faux trailer for a campy 1980s slasher called ‘Camp Bloodbath’ that’s as specifically modeled on the ‘Friday the 13th’ series as you’d expect. Then we’re introduced to Amanda (Malin Akerman), one of that movie’s stars, who’s now struggling to find work while goofing around with her daughter Max (Taissa Farmiga from ‘American Horror Story’). The sequence ends in a car crash that claims Amanda’s life. Years later, Max is invited to a special screening of ‘Camp Bloodbath’ by the geeky brother (Thomas Middleditch from ‘Silicon Valley’) of her best friend (Alia Shawkat, ‘Arrested Development’). She reluctantly attends and a weird set of circumstances lead to Max and a few friends actually entering the movie. Now the gang has to survive the ’80s slasher by following all the rules established by the ‘Scream’ series long ago.
First, the good news: The movie can be pretty funny. Sure, all the “movie rules” gags are 20-years-old, but director Todd Strauss-Schulson (‘A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas’) and his writers nail the bad dialogue, ridiculous scenarios and horrible fashion sense of ’80s slashers with ease. Adam DeVine and Angela Trimbur (both from ‘Workaholics’) have a ball playing straight-faced genre stereotypes, and the movie has some fun gags at the expense of the dated sexual politics and cultural references of those old flicks. The relationship between Max and her mother’s movie character is also genuinely touching and gives the film some unexpected emotional heft.
Now the bad news: Stauss-Schulson doesn’t have much of a knack for staging the elaborate kills that are the slasher genre’s selling point, nor does he have the R-rated leniency to do so properly. That’s a shame, since the goofball comedy should allow for some splatstick gags that haven’t been seen in a while. The director overcompensates with whiz-bang overstylized visuals that are more distracting than anything else. The supposedly real teen characters also aren’t that much better written than their deliberately corny counterparts, so the movie never rises above the source material it mocks.
‘The Final Girls’ isn’t an awful movie. It’s a cute little genre effort. Unfortunately, that’s not the ideal adjective for a slasher homage, so the flick can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity. It’s especially strange to see the movie die at the hands of a PG-13 rating when I can’t imagine that the target audience for such a specific ’80s slasher homage could be under 18 in the first place.