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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Final Girls (Blu-ray)
The Final Girls (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // PG-13 // November 3, 2015 // Region Free
List Price: $30.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 3, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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I know what you're thinking! Another slasher where everyone whips out their smartphones but can't get any bars. Well, to be fair, Camp Blue Finch is in the middle of nowhere, so I guess that does kind of make sense. Also, it's 1986. And then there's that part where Max (Taissa Farmiga) and a bunch of her friends got sucked into a body count flick her mom had starred in before any of 'em had even been born.

Maybe I should back up a bit.

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Whenever Amanda Cartwright (Malin Akerman) waltzes into an audition, the response is pretty much always the same: "hey, Nancy from Camp Bloodbath!" Twenty years later, that shy girl with the clipboard and guitar who gets hacked apart by some machete-wielding nutjob is a role she still can't live down. She scores bit parts here and there, sure, but it's a mighty struggle to pay the bills. At least she has her barely-teenaged daughter Max (Taissa Farmiga), both as a source of support, a loyal friend, and a reason to keep up the good fight. ...and in an instant, with Max just inches away, she's gone.

It's a tough road in the few years that follow, as the once-bubbly Max becomes more withdrawn and lets her grades slip. ...but hey! Duncan (Thomas Middleditch) has an idea. He's the assistant manager of that theater down the road, and they're screening a double feature of the first two Camp Bloodbath flicks. What better way to make it an event than by having Amanda Cartwright's daughter in attendance? Just about the last thing in the world Max wants is to suffer through the sight of her late mother being savagely murdered on-screen, but Duncan offers to do a whole bunch of her homework and papers in exchange, plus it's an excuse to once again see her mom larger than life for at least a little while, so...

The double feature brings in an awfully rowdy crowd. So rowdy, in fact, that the entire theater quickly goes up in flames. Max susses a way out, grabbing a cosplayer's machete and slashing her way through the big screen. There's supposed to be an emergency exit on the other side, and they get out, alright. I don't know if it was smoke inhalation or what, but Max seems to have passed out, coming to in some lush, green forest, surrounded by a bunch of her friends. They're still trying to figure out what the hell's going on when a van pulls up. Eighties-as-hail cum dumpster Tina (Angela Trimbur), in between smacks of gum or whatever, pokes her head out and asks for directions to Camp Blue Finch. Wait, what? Max and company are still puzzled when, an hour and a half later, a van pulls up, Tina pokes out her head, and...yeah. Lather, rinse, repeat. You got it: they're trapped inside Camp Bloodbath.

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"Trapped" really is the right word for it too. No matter how far they run, they always wind up smack dab in the middle of Camp Blue Finch. Could be worse, though. I mean, Duncan literally has every single line of Camp Bloodbath committed to memory. He knows who lives, who dies and when, and who the final girl is that leaves bloodthirsty Billy Murphy's brains scattered all over the camp. All they have to do is wait it out, right? They snuggle up close to bad girl Paula (Chloe Bridges) who's supposed to deliver that death blow, only...well, the more the group knows about what's going on, the more they muck up the works. So, who's gonna be the Next Final Girl?

Don't shrug off The Final Girls as just another parody of '80s slasher flicks. I mean, there's an element of that, but it's hardly the driving force of the movie or anything. Hell, by the mid-'80s -- when most of The Final Girls is set -- slashers like Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI were pretty much spoofing the subgenre anyway. You don't need some encyclopediac knowledge of body count movies to appreciate what's being riffed on here; just the basic tropes that borderline-everyone knows. The Final Girls is meta in far more wildly imaginative ways: Max and her friends being able to hear that Manfrediniesque ki-ki-ki-ing, using flashbacks as an escape route, tripping over captions that are an actual, physical thing, and...well, I'd say more, but I don't want to give away everything. It's intriguing to see how characters in a slasher flick behave when they realize just what kind of movie they're in, and for a while there, it looks like they're all Final Girls.

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If that meta-and-then-some angle were all there were to The Final Girls, chances are that I'd still be writing a ridiculously enthusiastic review right about now. I mean, more of my life has revolved around '80s slashers than I probably ought to admit. Turns out that its ambitions run a hell of a lot deeper than that, though. Most every slasher under the sun didn't bother with characters that took more than a word or two to fully sum up: jock, stoner, rocker, prankster, geek, artist, angsty girl, that one black guy, horndog, yadda yadda yadda. The Final Girls does an amazing job embracing some of those clichés. I'm starting to be convinced that Adam Devine was put on this planet to star as an overbearing '80s douchebag bro, Angela Trimbur is entirely too much fun as a ditzy sex kitten, and I love Tory N. Thompson as the sensitive New Waver (who, yeah, is also the obligatory black guy). The Camp Bloodbath crowd is big and broad in the most deliriously fun ways, but there's something awfully endearing about 'em too: even Devine's chest-thumping smash-that-gash prick. When Billy starts to hack them apart, one by one, their deaths actually matter...have an emotional impact that very few straightahead slashers have managed to get from me. Max and her classmates are genuinely well-drawn characters, amounting to so much more than "oh, that one's the mean girl" or "he's the horror geek". The screenplay deftly infuses them with splashes of personality while still keeping everything chugging forward, and The Final Girls is so well-cast that of course Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, and Alexander Ludwig (fresh off the way-too-similarly titled The Final Girl!) do a uniformly terrific job bringing them to life...for however long their lives last, anyway.

As perfect a fit as the ensemble is overall, this is really Taissa Farmiga and Malin Akerman's show. Farmiga is a revelation, bringing to Max a warmth and vulnerability that are impossible not to embrace, and I'm in awe of how expressive an actress she is. A look on her face conveys more than reams of dialogue could ever hope to match. Max's burning desire to reconnect with her mother -- her best friend, her everything -- is the core of The Final Girls, and that comes through masterfully. Akerman deserves every bit as much praise. She's pulling double duty here, portraying a devoted mother in her late thirties/early forties and a wide-eyed teenager in a slasher flick. The extraordinary thing is that these are two very different characters, and yet Amanda as an actress clearly invested enough of herself in playing Nancy that when Max looks at this shy girl with the clipboard and guitar, she sees something close enough to her mother. The Final Girls ensures that we adore both Max and her mom within just a couple of minutes into the movie, and her relationship with Nancy is somehow even more powerful. While the rest of the Camp Bloodbath crowd by design is one-dimensional, there's more to Nancy than a twenty-something-year-old slasher flick would ever bother to put on the screen: to be someone with vivid hopes and dreams, only to learn that you exist solely to be gruesomely murdered.

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While a lot of aggressively meta TV shows and movies tend to be kind of cynical, The Final Girls has a warm, loving heart thumping underneath it all. It's incredibly sweet, and when was the last time anyone said that about a movie with a mass-murderer running around with a machete? The Final Girls melds all these very different tones spectacularly well. It's a charming character piece. It readily passes the Bechdel test, placing its female characters squarely in the lead and revolving almost entirely around the bonds between them. It's a genre spoof lobbing out a bunch of really solid and extremely inventive laughs. It's a hell of a lot of fun. It's visually arresting, even if The Final Girls' reach does exceed its grasp in some of the early visual effects. It's a heartbreaking exploration of overcoming loss, to the point where I truly did get choked up leading up to the climax. While it's true that The Final Girls is rated PG-13, is virtually bloodless, and doesn't bother with any nudity, it's really just not that kind of movie, and none of that is missed. Its action is still awfully bad-ass when it counts, though. It also remains grounded no matter how strange or surreal things get (which they do -- a lot). Something as unique and ambitious as The Final Girls would be cause for celebration even if the execution weren't quite there, but...well, it does stick the landing. Brilliantly cast, boasting an unparalleled imagination, and masterfully written and directed, The Final Girls ranks among the year's most extraordinary releases -- of horror or any other genre, really -- and comes very Highly Recommended.


Video
Seeing as how pretty much the entirety of The Final Girls is set within an '80s slasher flick, you're probably expecting the bulk of the movie to look like a faded, beaten, battered, grimy as hell print, right?

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Nope. Far from it, actually:

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The idea is that stepping into a movie is like being whisked away to Oz. It follows that the photography here is so dazzlingly sharp and detailed...more real than reality. Its colors are achingly gorgeous as well; even with the hypersaturated likes of Suspiria and Nobuhiko Obayashi's House getting namechecked in the disc's audio commentaries, The Final Girls' palette is in a whole other league altogether. Well, except for the movie-within-a-movie's black and white flashbacks, but let's be reasonable here. Even the authoring of this disc is immaculate, without so much as a sputter or stutter anywhere to be found in this AVC encode. I'd write more, but it's called "hushed awe" for a reason.

The Final Girls hacks and slashes its way onto a dual-layer Blu-ray disc. That windowboxed trailer for Camp Bloodbath aside, the movie's presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1.


Audio
The Camp Bloodbath title soaring towards the audience, its spin on Friday the 13th's ominous ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma, arrows being flung all around and connecting with a meaty "thummp!", hellish cracks of thunder in the climax, this hulking psychopath's stomping footsteps that wind up rattling just about everything in the room: The Final Girls' 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack aggressively takes advantage of the whole 5.1 thing. The Final Girls' lossless audio is outstanding in nearly every conceivable way, but far and away the highlight for me is Gregory James Jenkins' score -- a pitch-perfect, synth-centric homage to the body count movies of decades past.

That's not it for the lossless end of things either; a six-channel, 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track in Portuguese has also found its way on here. Meanwhile, Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs (640kbps) are served up in French (PAR), Spanish, and Thai. Brace yourself for a long list of subtitles: English (traditional and SDH), Chinese (traditional), French, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai. It's also very much worth noting that both of the disc's audio commentaries have been subtitled into each and every one of those languages as well.


Extras
  • Audio Commentaries: Director Todd Strauss-Schulson is joined by production designer Katie Byron, director of photography Elie Smolkin, and actors Thomas Middleditch, Taissa Farmiga, and Angela Trimbur for an infectiously fun cast & crew commentary. It's tough to pick out the best comments since the entire thing plays like an eightysomeodd minute highlight reel, but if I had to choose a few: Trimbur practically passing out from exhaustion after four Red Bulls and a manic dance to "Cherry Pie" in the wee hours of the morning, how Alia Shawkat tried to work around her busted-up hand, a climax that at one point was envisioned to have the survivors fighting Billy with the letters from the end credits, and, for that one guy at DVD Talk who cracked a joke about this being the remake of Sherlock, Jr. we've all been waiting for, yeah, it's mentioned here too. If you're more into the Filmmaking 101 sort of thing, this commentary delivers on that front as well.

    The second (errr...final?) of The Final Girls' commentaries revolves around writers Joshua John Miller and Mark Fortin, and even with not quite so many people on the bill, it's still every bit as entertaining. Having originated the concept in the first place, Miller and Fortin are able to speak about how disastrous the earliest pitches for The Final Girls were (Terms of Endearment meets Friday the 13th!), the complete and total lack of respect Hollywood holds for female audiences, and the generally wretched notes dumped on them by various studios. You won't believe which very prominent director at one point wanted to helm this movie, or...well, if you think about it, you absolutely might believe it, but it's still extremely impressive. Of particular interest is how the screenplay took shape and dramatically changed over the course of who knows how many drafts: how drenched in splatter earlier iterations were before the PG-13 mandate came in, Paula being more of a traditional Final Girl type rather than a leather-clad badass, Max's mom originally starring as more of a spreadeagle Tina type, how being inside of a slasher flick was physically transforming these outsiders for a while there, and what kind of an impact it had for Miller to see his father -- Jason Miller, who played Father Karras in The Exorcist -- violently dying on-screen over and over again. There are also some really inspired notes about the allure of horror to gay kids, how cathartic writing this screenplay was when dealing with the all-too-real loss of a parent, and a story about trying to license "Like a Prayer" that didn't anywhere near the way I thought it would. Anyone who gives a shout-out to The House on Sorority Row, Pieces, and The Burning is a man...or men?...after my heart, so whatever the two of you write after this, count me in.
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  • Deleted, Alternate, and Extended Scenes (22 min.; HD): There are nine of these scenes in all, including some much-appreciated additional time with Max and her mom, a you're-damned-right-it's-self-indulgent longer version of the slow-mo sequence, additional heartfelt confessions-slash-apologies, and a pin-swapping admission of love. We're also treated to two different endings, bits and pieces from which were reassembled into what ultimately made it into The Final Girls.

    I've gotten so used to commentary over deleted scenes pretty much amounting to "we really liked this part, though we had to cut it for pacing", but director Todd Strauss-Schulson has so much more to say than that. He's a natural born storyteller and does a brilliant job just painting a picture of what post-production on The Final Girls was like: the insane editing schedule, the single battle he lost with studio execs, and two endings in a row failing to connect with test audiences. I also appreciate his comments about the art of editing, such as paring down a 'shaggy' sequence when you realize that the actors' faces convey so much more than a few lines of dialogue ever could, working out which gags to use with a cast this seasoned at improv, and reshuffling the entire opening of the film.

  • Visual Effects Progression Reel (3 min.; HD): This reel showcases different stages of a number of standout effects sequences: several of the many sky replacements, the brutal car wreck, the screen melting into flashback, and pretty much everything with the theater being engulfed in flames, among quite a few others.

  • Pre-Vis Animation (6 min.; SD): Think of 'em as rough 3D storyboards to work out action and camera movement in particularly complex sequences. There are five here, tackling the opening car crash, the movie theater going up in flames, the gang's arrival at Camp Blue Finch, the whirling camerawork as the real-world folks realize they're trapped in an oversized Pac-Man board, and the execution of Operation Booby Trap.

  • Director's Shooting Notes: If you have a BD-ROM drive on your computer, plop in The Final Girls to unearth seventy (!) pages of handwritten notes.

...and if you're looking for a gag reel, stick around for The Final Girls' end credits.


The Final Word
Why this disc is hitting stores the Tuesday after Halloween, I have no idea, but that's honestly the only thing that The Final Girls gets wrong. If you're aching for a hyper-meta riff on '80s slasher flicks, The Final Girls more than delivers on that level, but it's sweeter, more character-driven, and far more emotionally wrenching than I ever could've guessed. As disparate something melding horror, comedy, and drama seems like it'd have to be, this movie bounds from one to the other without ever missing a beat. It might sound ridiculous to say that a flick where someone falls headfirst into a bear trap is a masterpiece, but for my money, The Final Girls genuinely deserves that label, and it has a hell of a Blu-ray disc to match. Highly Recommended.
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