Genre mash-ups have become extremely common and popular with titles such as Shaun of the Dead. Horror and comedy work rather well when the balance is well-executed. The carrying out of a good concept proves to be king, as simply being satirical of a sub-genre isn't necessarily going to make for a very good film. It could make some money at the box office, but few of them will be memorable. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson and writers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller have created a horror comedy that brings us back to classic horror flicks such as Friday the 13th in a way that's fresh and exciting.
When a young woman named Max (Taissa Farmiga) loses her mother (Malin Akerman) in a terrible car accident, her life changes forever. One night, she's invited to attend a special screening of a 1980's slasher flick that her mother starred in. When Max and her friends are pulled into the movie, she finds herself reunited with her mother. Together, they must fight off the film's maniacal killer in order to return home.
This is undoubtedly a horror comedy, although it has some serious dramatic elements that aid in making The Final Girls what it is. While brief, the playful interactions between Max and her mother earn quite a few sympathy points, allowing us to connect with their journey. Once Max finds herself in the Friday the 13th-esque slasher movie, the audience is already rooting for them to make it to the end. All of the dramatic beats feel genuine, which definitely sounds unusual for this type of film. However, it's ultimately what separates The Final Girls from being another generic horror venture. It has a large amount of heart that presents a grounded human element, which contrasts well with the fantastical plot.
The second biggest element that the film has to offer is its humor. Both the screenwriters and the director have a strong understanding of the horror genre, as they play with their inventive concept in ways that generate quite a few laughs. Non-genre fans will still find a few chuckles, but most of the content is specifically geared for those who have seen their fair share of slashers. The interactions between modern teenagers and those of the 1980s is also quite amusing, as an information gap is consistently displayed throughout. However, the majority of the laughs come from clichés that we've come to know all too well. Without spoiling any of the punchlines, The Final Girls does a good job blurring the lines between the old and the new in more ways than one.
While I wanted the film to be this year's best genre feature, it's far from being perfect. Many of the problems occur within the second half of the film's duration. The PG-13 rating is a serious concern. Not every horror movie needs gore and nudity, but a satire on the slasher sub-genre shouldn't shy away from either of them. The fact that the film tries to appeal to a wider audience by eliminating R-rated content is concerning. Instead of feeling more versatile, it ultimately removes us from the film. I was entirely captivated by all of the insanity that the plot had to offer, but as soon as cutaways and other PG-13 shenanigans took place, I began resenting the film. However, Fortin and Miller make up for this issue with a finale that's so ridiculously over-the-top and fun, that it leaves the audience yearning for more. Now, if only they would have continued to push the envelope.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson is mostly successful in bringing The Final Girls to life. Once we're transported into the 1980s horror flick with Max and her friends, the cheesy visual design works. Everything from the colors to the editing and camera movement is nostalgic, which makes it feel as if they're truly in what could very well be a horror cult classic. Unfortunately, the visual design is less than satisfactory when Max is in the real world. Almost all of the major CG shots look unfinished, but not intentionally so. For example, a brutal car crash looks cartoonish when it should have been an emotional moment that sticks with us. Rather, it comes across as a tacky stunt that isn't fitting for either the plot or the style. Otherwise, Strauss-Schulson plays with the picture in fun ways that will make fans of the original slashers proud.
There are an abundance of good times to be had during The Final Girls. It's inventive, funny, thoughtful, and consistently entertaining. Nearly all of the makings of an instant cult classic are present, although it's missing the R-rated nature of the films that this one is a satire of. The second half simply doesn't push the envelope quite as far as I would have liked, but even so, it's an incredibly unique concept with overall satisfying results. While all moviegoers are likely to have a good time here, horror fans will get the most out of it. The Final Girls is a smart genre mash-up with both laughs and heart. Recommended.