Slated as the opening film of the tenth annual Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival, “The Final Girls” is the perfect film to open the festival, a funny riff on the ridiculousness of ‘80s slashers that still recognizes why we enjoy them — not in spite of their stupidities but, in large part, because of them. The slasher genre may have already been thoroughly run through the post-modern wringer, but director Todd Strauss-Schulson is less interested in deconstruction than in just having a good time.
Working from a premise as old as “Sherlock, Jr.” — in which Buster Keaton’s projectionist walks into the movie screen — “The Final Girls” is less a horror movie per se than a comedy set within the highly unrealistic, even downright silly, world of ‘80s slashers like “Friday the 13th.”
Taissa Farmiga plays Max, the daughter of an ‘80s scream queen (Malin Akerman) who can’t escape her role in the cult classic “Camp Bloodbath.” Max’s mother dies, and years later she is reluctantly convinced by Duncan (Thomas Middleditch), a “bathematician” (his term for superfans of the “Camp Bloodbath” series) to make an appearance at a theatrical screening of the film. After a fire breaks out in the theater, Max finds herself transported to the world of the movie, along with Duncan, her crush Chris (Alexander Ludwig), her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), and her former best friend Vicki (Nina Dobrev). Attempting to subvert the conventions of the genre, they try to stay alive, and maybe even save some of the characters, including Nancy, the character played by Max’s mom, from Billy, the gigantic, machete-wielding killer of the film.
The cast here is really excellent, with some particularly great work by Adam Devine (“Workaholics”), playing a douche in the film within the film, and Farmiga, playing it straight and wringing a bit of actual pathos from the idea of reconnecting with a lost parent through a crappy ‘80s horror flick. Angela Trimbur also gets a lot of laughs out of playing the sex-crazed and none-too-bright Tina, a nice dig at the, shall we say, limited view of feminine humanity within the slasher genre.
Actually, “The Finals Girls” struck me as one of the funnier, cleverer, and more perceptive of the recent attempts at twisting the conventions of cult horror into fodder for comedy. I know “The Cabin in the Woods” has a lot of fans among horror aficionados, but that one came off to me as rather smug and unfunny, a weirdly sincere takedown of a genre that wasn’t really a going concern in 2012, when the movie was released. “The Final Girls” places slashers in their proper context, the 1980s, and . They are, in many ways, a relic of a different era, and when we enjoy them today it is with an awareness of the thin characters, shoddy plotting, and misogyny at their core.
“The Final Girls” may have borrowed most of its observations from “Scream,” but it’s a far sillier twist on the genre. And, thanks to the excellent cast and some inspired visual gags, it’s almost as funny as “Jason in Space.”