Thursday, October 8, 2015

Camp Meta: "The Final Girls" a gloriously fun, giddily imaginative treat for genre lovers

The Final Girls (2015)
88 min., rated PG-13.

"The Final Girls" could only be made by true fans of the slasher pictures of yore, or it probably wouldn't be as much fun as it is. Even before film scholar Carol J. Clover coined the term in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws, the "final girl" has always been a long-standing trope in slasher movies and, following 2012's "The Cabin in the Woods" and 2013's "You're Next," it finally gets the major meta subversion it deserves. Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson (2011's "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas") and written by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, the film is beyond ingenious in concept, blending "Last Action Hero" with "Friday the 13th" and a little "Wet Hot American Summer," and sets up a group of likable characters we actually want to see reach the end. A gloriously entertaining, giddily imaginative treat that is about as self-aware as Wes Craven's "Scream" series but still very clever in its own right, "The Final Girls" hits the sweet spot and gives the slasher genre a surprisingly inspired post-modern kick that it can always use.

Three years ago, California Valley teen Max (Taissa Farmiga) was involved in a car accident that took the life of her mother, horror actress Amanda Cartwright (Malin Akerman) who would never let down being a star in 1980s killer-with-a-machete slasher flick "Camp Bloodbath." It being the anniversary of her mother's death, a reluctant Max gets dragged to a local movie theater to see a double feature, beginning with "Camp Bloodbath," but it is a chance to see her mother again. Max's best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat) and study partner/crush Chris (Alexander Ludwig) come for moral support. Also along for the ride is Gertie's stepbrother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), who's a huge "Camp Bloodbath" fan, and Adderall-popping mean girl Vicki (Nina Dobrev) shows up in an attempt to win back her ex, Chris. When a fire engulfs the packed theater, Max and the other four manage to slice through the screen to exit, but instead, they somehow get transported directly into the movie and its summer-camp setting of 1986. Stuck on a 92-minute loop of watching the yellow van of camp counselors go by, the five eventually agree to hop in and go to Camp Blue Finch. Max tries coping with seeing her mom as Nancy, "the shy girl with the clipboard and the guitar" who will meet her fate to legendary slasher Billy Murphy, but she must set sentiment aside and stick to the rules of the slasher genre if she and her friends want to escape, unlike the rest of the movie's soon-to-be-slashed camp counselors.

Kicking off with the "ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma"-ish sounds that echo the score of a certain 1980 slasher pic, "The Final Girls" begins with the cannily made trailer of "Camp Bloodbath" that would fit right in with the fake trailer in the 2007 Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino schlock-palooza "Grindhouse" ("Pack your bags for 'Camp Bloodbath,' where the only marshmallow that will roast . . . is your sanity!"). In order for one to buy the blend of reality and movies that the premise employs, the viewer must simply go along with the fantastical rabbit hole the "real" characters enter (at first, one of them questions if it's a collective dream). Once Max, Chris, Gertie, Vicki, and Duncan find themselves in the movie and hope to survive by sticking close to Paula (Chloe Bridges), the tough-chick counselor whom the title of "final girl" went to in the original film, the film changes the rules of slasher pics (i.e. don't have sex and you might stick around longer) and hands the title to someone else. The film-within-a-film concept has been done to death, but director Todd Strauss-Schulson pulls it off beautifully with a satirical freshness. He has a field day throwing cinematic devices, like flashbacks, voice-over narration, on-screen titles, musical cues, and slow-motion, into the mix. To read the rest of the view, go to Diabolique Magazine.

Grade: B +

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