DVD Review: The Final Girls

There have been some superb, unique, very creative concepts in the often cliché ridden horror genre in recent years. Ironically, a lot of these concepts standout and are so fun because they play directly off of just how cliché ridden the genre tends to be. From Scream to The Cabin in the Woods, to the much less talked about, but just as deserving of praise Behind the Mask: The Story of Leslie Vernon, breaking the fourth wall – when done right – can lead to some memorable spins on tired stories.

That’s the case with The Final Girls, in where even the title pokes fun at a constant similarity found in most horror films – especially in the 1980s. The story centers on Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga), a teenager who is trying to cope with the loss of her mother, Amanda (Malin Akerman.) We briefly get to see the close bond the two share at the start of the film as Amanda tries to keep her daughter smiling, despite the fact that bills are piling up and her acting career is as dead as the character she played in “Camp Bloodbath” – the only movie anyone ever recognizes her from.

After a tragic accident claims her mother’s life, Max goes to live with her aunt and we fast-forward three years later to the anniversary of her mother’s death. Struggling in school, Max agrees to attend a screening of “Camp Bloodbath” as a guest of honour at the theater that her best friend’s stepbrother, Duncan (Thomas Middleditch) manages, and in return, Duncan will ensure she passes the class she’s failing.

With the moral support of her best friend Girtie (Alia Shawkat), as well as the unconventionally sweet jock, Chris (Alexander Ludwig), Max arrives at the theater with just enough time to run into the film’s mean girl character, Vicki (Nina Dobrev), who also happens to be Chris’s ex. Once Duncan joins them for the screening, all the characters are in play and the fun can begin.

After a fire breaks out and blocks all the exits, the friends quickly rush towards the screen to get to the emergency exit. Max takes a machete someone wearing a costume dropped and slices through the screen, and the next thing they know, they’re all out in the woods in the middle of the day and they’re soon stumbled upon by a group of camp councilors who look oddly familiar. Mainly because they’re from the movie Camp Bloodbath, which our heroes are now trapped inside.

There’s definitely a lot of fun to be had with this concept, and while I believe that the idea could’ve been taken even further at times, it’s incredibly entertaining throughout – and that’s mainly due to the extra level of depth and care that writers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller gave the characters.

Instead of one-dimensional fodder, the audience is actually given reason to care about the characters in The Final Girls. Well, the main characters at least! Most of the characters found within “Camp Bloodbath” are one-dimensional because, well, that’s how the writers of “Camp Bloodbath” wrote them!

The film is also rated PG-13, and is not overly violent by any means as far as horror movies go. Some may not like this approach, but while the concept and jokes focus greatly around being trapped in a 1980s horror flick, the core of the film is based on Max and her trying to cope with the loss of her mother. So needless to say, when she comes face to face with Nancy, the character her mother played in “Camp Bloodbath,” it leads to some interesting results.

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson does a really good job of pacing out the film so that it’s steadily funny, yet not lacking in a few heartfelt moments that resonate. It’s in these moments – especially the ones shared between Max and Nancy – that The Final Girls proves to be more than just a spoof on the horror genre.

Of course, these moments would be lacking if it weren’t for the proper actors being attached, and it’s in great part to them that this film is elevated to the level it achieves. Farmiga (who most will recognize from season one of American Horror Story) is flawless as Max, and her chemistry with Akerman is perfect. When the two share scenes together, it’s clear how much pain Max is in, and even though Nancy isn’t her mother, Akerman plays the character beautifully, and the bond these two share is the heart of the film.

On the comedic side of things, Middleditch is great as the “Camp Bloodbath” expert of the group, and Adam DeVine (who plays Kurt, the horn dog of the original camp councilors) does what Adam Devine does best, and that’s being a goofball who you never know what they’ll say next. Ludwig, Shawkat and Dobrev are all great, and the entire group has wonderful chemistry together. Lastly there’s Angela Trimbur, who plays Tina, the slutty camp counselor. Trimbur does a superb job with this role, leading to some awesome moments throughout the film that really feel like they were pulled from a ‘80s slasher.

While I’ll mention this in the special features, the movie does have two alternate endings, and oddly enough I liked them both more than the actual ending the film chose. To be fair, they’re all relatively similar, so it’s not like the film’s actual ending is terrible. It’s just that I enjoyed the journey these characters took together, and I think that one of the alternate endings in particular just would have been a better conclusion over all.

The Final Girls is a fun horror comedy that tends to tug at the heartstrings more than you’d expect. While I believe more could have been done with the concept of being trapped inside a horror film, the top-notch acting, witty dialogue and overall fun that everyone has really keeps things moving along soundly. The Final Girls is definitely a fitting stocking stuffer for the movie buff on your list!

The film looks great at all times, whether it’s in the present, or after they all transport into the film. The sound mixes are also incredibly well done, with the music and dialogue coming through smooth and clear.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary – Director Todd Strauss-Schulson, Production Designer Katie Byron, DoP Elie Smolkin and Taissa Farmiga and Thomas Middleditch all come together for the first commentary. It’s great to have both the acting side covered by two key characters, as well as pretty much everyone you could hope to hear from on the production side of things!

Audio Commentary – Writers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller take on the second audio commentary track, and talk about rewrites, the way certain scenes came together, and why various decisions were made in the writing process.

Deleted, Extended and Alternate Scenes – I’m not a big fan of deleted and extended scenes, as usually they were cut or cut down for a reason and aren’t worth watching. I’d definitely recommend at least checking out the alternate endings here though.

Pre-Vis Animation – There are some digitally animated pre-production shots of how certain scenes like the theater fire, or the car crash would be shot. Not overly interesting, and only a few minutes long.

Visual Effects Progression Reel – At two and a half minutes, this is another quick look at the visual effects side of the movie.

Sony Pictures Presents The Final Girls. Directed by: Todd Strauss-Schulson. Written by: M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller. Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, Angela Trimbur, Tory N. Thompson. Running time: 88 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on DVD: Nov. 3, 2015.

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