Todd Strauss-Schulson‘s “The Final Girls” is probably the best coming of age film of the year. Hiding beneath the veneer of a slasher horror comedy beats a touching and heartbreaking dramedy about letting go, and accepting that sometimes nature has to take its course. Taissa Farmiga is wonderful as young Max, the daughter of Amanda, a once popular actress who has unfortunately been typecast for her role as Nancy in a famous slasher movie named “Camp Bloodbath.” Max keeps the hope in her mom alive, despite Amanda completely losing faith in herself, and in the hope of becoming a popular actress once again. Tragically the pair gets in to a horrible car crash killing Amanda and leaving Max orphaned. Three years later, Max is still clinging to memories, and is convinced by friend Duncan to attend a double screening of mom Amanda’s “Camp Bloodbath” movies, in hopes of indulging hardcore fans of the movie series.
Max obliges begrudgingly, but on her way to leave the theater is caught in the middle of a terrible fire that leaves the building in flames. In an effort to escape with their lives, Max flees through the movie screen with her four comrades, and awakens in a forest. Confused at first, the group is dumb struck when they realize they’ve somehow magically warped in to “Camp Bloodbath,” and have no idea how to get home, nor do they know what brought them there, in the first place. “The Final Girls” is all around a treat that mixes so many elements from various other genres, and it works beautifully. I didn’t expect “The Final Girls” to touch me on such an emotional level, but director Strauss-Schulson builds our characters so well, that you really want to see more of them, rather than jump right in to the slasher satire. While the slasher fodder is fun and hilarious in its own right, the human story about grief and losing your loved ones really kept me watching until the very end.
“The Final Girls” could have fallen in to a trap of gimmicks and lame throwbacks to the eighties, but it’s so much more than that. It also helps that Strauss-Schulson casts a slew of wonderful actors that keep the film consistently funny and compelling. Adam Devine steals the show as character Kurt your typical eighties horror horny beef head who delivers every line of bad dialogue with so much confidence, you’d have to be a robot not to break in to hysterics. There’s also Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch and Angela Trimbur, all of whom grab their raucous moments of laughter, and never let up. Farmiga lends a sense of humanity to Max, who is the protagonist still reeling from such a terrible event, and has to once again re-adjust to another extraordinary situation. It doesn’t help matters that she’s forced to be in the same room with the manifestation of her mother’s on-screen character Nancy, who is set to be killed during the movie.
Malin Akerman is also quite excellent as Nancy, who slowly gains a self-awareness of her predicament, and has to face some hard truths, even as she bonds with Max. Even as the characters learn they can alter the course of the movie, forcing them in to a fight with maniacal masked killer Billy, this creates a fascinating dichotomy and conflict, as Max eventually is convinced that perhaps she can alter Nancy’s fate in the film itself. Through the hilarious physical gags, and slasher throwbacks, Max’s own journey to save Nancy becomes incredibly gut wrenching, and inevitably symbolic of her own refusal to accept her mother’s passing. Strauss-Schulson keeps the themes of grief on the surface, while also turning the slasher movie in to something of an allegory for Max’s emotional turmoil. “The Final Girls” is a movie that can be appreciated on so many levels as it succeeds in conveying emotional undertones, while also serving as a fast paced meta-slasher in the process. It’s without a doubt one of my favorite movies of the year.