Slasher films have always played an influential role in the overall horror genre. Many of their stories are bleak and often center around certain times of the year like summer and autumn. (What kind of Halloween would it be if Michael Myers didn’t chase Laurie Strode down the block?) But, there are also comedy slashers that give us a good laugh, sometimes at the genre’s expense. One of them is Todd Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls. The 2015 film is an underappreciated gem that celebrates everything great about slashers while also telling an engaging story.
Max (Taissa Farmiga) struggles to cope with her grief after losing her mother, Amanda (Malin Akerman), a once-famous scream queen of the ’80s. A fateful night at the movies leads to Max and her friends Gertie (Alia Shawkat), Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), Chris (Alexander Ludwig), and Vicki (Nina Dobrev) being transported into Camp Bloodbath, a 1986 slasher film. But this isn’t just any movie. It’s the slasher that stars Max’s mom as the sweet protagonist Nancy. As a result, Max must confront not only a masked murderer but also her personal anguish.
The Final Girls pays homage to the slasher genre in more ways than its name. The first example is with its protagonist Max. Her name itself is a nod to the final girl trope of having an androgynous moniker. Final girls before her like Sidney, Laurie, and Jess (Black Christmas) boast names that can be feminine or masculine. Like Sidney, she recently (and tragically) lost her mom. She’s shy, almost an outsider, with only a few close friends.
The film’s antagonist is very slasher-inspired: a serial killer wielding a machete. Billy Murphy’s story is similar to Jason Voorhees from one of the very first slasher films, Friday the 13th. He’s a former victim of bullying at Camp Blue Finch because of his facial deformities. Heinous acts of violence from vicious teenagers turn his sadness into rage. This often happens with slasher killers. They become bloodthirsty seekers of vengeance due to poor upbringing and/or malice from others.
The Blue Finch camp counselors also lean into the now-iconic styles from 1980s slashers. Very short shorts, skin-tight t-shirts, suspenders, and crop tops are all the rage. It’s a large contrast from Max and her friends’ outfits. Counselor Kurt (Adam Devine) quickly points out the difference, telling the modern kids that their clothes are “disgusting.” He gets a snarky response from Vicky, who calls him out for wearing a crop top.
The generational differences continue to play out in the film, showing how much slashers have progressed over the years. The Final Girls makes fun of overtly sexist lines towards female characters, which were common in earlier films. Kurt, the ’80s guy trying to get laid, and Vicky, a progressive modern girl, go through several rounds of great banter. Their dialogue showcases how terrible the former’s cheesy pick-up lines are. Purposely poorly-written lines are possibly the most quote-able factor of all that screams slasher film. (To this day I randomly say: “Eat sh*t and die, Ricky/Eat sh*t and live, Bill,” courtesy of Sleepaway Camp.)
In the style of older slashers, The Final Girls main characters are specifically written to reflect (and brilliantly mock) frequently seen stereotypes. There’s an asshole with bad pick-up lines, a virgin, a seductress, a mean girl, a sweet girl, a strange/horror nerd, and so on between Max’s crew and the Camp Bloodbath counselors. In one scene, they make the seductress Tina (Angela Trimbur) wear a lifejacket and oven mitts duct-taped on her hands. “Why do I have to wear this stuff again?” she muses. “Because you’re scripted to do a striptease at the slumber party, and when you take your top off, Billy comes running,” Chris explains.
The rules of horror film survival in the style of Scream‘s Randy come from its resident horror expert Duncan. Everyone leans on his intimate knowledge of the genre and this film franchise specifically to know what will likely happen next and what to do to survive. And, there is certainly an onslaught of horror tropes that arise as they try to make it back home.
The slow-motion sequences, the killer having a theme tune, sex being an immoral sin/death sentence, and the Black character dying first all happen in the movie within a movie. But one of the most crucial slasher tropes is the virginal final girl, which is a big part of The Final Girls‘ narrative. However, this flick does a unique subversion against common plot armor, showing that anybody can die… and oh boy, do they die! There are some pretty gruesome death scenes that tip their hats to the many gory kills from this subgenre. It makes sense, considering that there’s a small (or maybe large) part of us that watches these films for the death scenes.
In the end, The Final Girls may make fun of some of the components of slashers, but at the same time, it celebrates them. Moreover, its inventive narrative is not only that but so much more. It intertwines a greater story about grief and sacrifice and examines slasher films through a different lens. The Final Girls deserves more recognition, and there is no better time than now to watch it, preferably during a hot summer camp-worthy evening.