Movie Review: 'The Final Girls' (2015)

An offbeat romp of bizarre proportions, the latest effort from director Todd Strauss-Schulson is a strange one. It follows Max (Taissa Farmiga), the daughter of a B-movie actress (Malin Ackerman) who starred in a cult classic slasher flick in the 80’s. A couple of years after her mother's death; the local theater decides to hold a special screening of the movie as part of a tribute its late star.

With Max and her friends in attendance, a string of incidents lead to them being magically sucked into an alternate dimension in which they are a part of the movie. If that plotline sounds off putting in its surrealism, that is understandable.

Much in the way Joss Whedon’s “The Cabin in the Woods” paid homage to the horror tropes its characters had to face to survive, “The Final Girls” similarly takes aim at the genre. Not in an entirely dismissive or disdainful way. There is a tenderness to its jabs and reverence to its inside jokes that hint the ensuing ribbing is all in good fun.

One of the main obstacles in the movie’s path is that it is one of the latest in a long line of “horror comedies” - a genre that attempts to take the all too serious plot of people being stalked by a deranged killer into something funny. Suffice it to say that it not an easy task. Simply put, horror movie scenarios are not funny. Only when equipped with source material so over the top in its absurdity can it work and rarely.

This can mainly be seen in monster movie parodies. Take the underrated “Eight Legged Freaks” or the camp-tastic “Pirahna 3-D” for instance. The latter movie knew its strengths and weaknesses and went all in with a reckless abandon that embraced its wacky verve to the hilt. 

While the “Scream” franchise is considered to possess a comedic undercurrent, it left room open for those who did not find it humorous to not feel backed into a corner to laugh. The same can be said for the 2013 thriller “You’re Next” also billed as a horror comedy and the cult flick “American Psycho”. If you never looked up their intended genre, you might have never guessed they were supposedly dark comedies.

For its part “The Final Girls” openly identifies as a comedy. The thing is, it is too fragmented in its approach to rise or fall as one. It is too goofy to be considered a miss as a sharp satire and too light to be mistaken for something tonally serious.

Unlike some of the aforementioned titles it hesitates to boldly go into any one direction. While it tries its hand at satire in its opening act, it switches gears to zany spoof in its second before taking a surprising detour into dark drama in its last.

In a lot of ways you could almost categorize the movie as more of a lampoon of horror comedies than of actual horror movies. When it is not busy coloring inside the lines of parody, it takes aim at pop culture; a broader comedic cornerstone from which it attempts to cull laughs from a hipster point of view and like FOX’s offensive “Scream Queens” it fumbles the ball.

Despite all of these problems, “Final Girls” does contain redemptive aspects. It possesses an impressive ensemble of Hollywood’s burgeoning young set and gives them a unique platform to perform. This is especially true for “Vikings” star Alexander Ludwig, who gets an opportunity to flex his range in a role that is a far cry from his ultra serious turn on the History Channel series.

When the chips are down it is Malin Ackerman who rescues "The Final Girls" with a dazzling performance that makes the entire movie worthwhile. Like Ludwig, she too demonstrates her range as an actor equally adept at comedy and drama. Opening with a sunny innocence that entices you to instantly care for her character, she later brings a sense of palatable dread to the movie’s denouement and in one scene in particular, she is downright moving. As a showcase for her talent, the film is exceptional.

Unfortunately that is where the positives run out. As its surreal set-up grows more and more fantastical, it regrettably calls to mind “This Is the End” – a hauntingly awful piece of cinema that similarly begins as a satire (its target being Hollywood) before escalating into an all out nightmare. Mercifully, “Final Girls” does not come anywhere close to searing such a horror into the memory banks. Rating: 5/10