The Final Girls is a slasher movie, a slasher-movie parody, a horror comedy, and a drama about coming to terms with regrets. Though it’s not especially scary in itself, The Final Girls is the smartest movie about scary movies since Cabin in the Woods.
The set-up is brilliant. At an anniversary screening of Friday the 13th-esque slasher classic Camp Bloodbath, Max (Taissa Farmiga), the daughter of recently-deceased 1980s scream queen Amanda Cartwright (Malin Akerman), is mysteriously transported into the events of the movie with her best friend (Alia Shawkat), her sorta-boyfriend (Alexander Ludwig), her frenemy (Nina Dobrev), and her best friend’s brother (Thomas Middleditch), who is a Camp Bloodbath superfan. The on-screen characters—who are adorably clueless in the way that slasher-movie victims tend to be— have no idea they’re about to be stalked by a machete-wielding psychopath; Amanda thinks she’s really a “Kumbaya”-singing camp counselor named Nancy, and has no idea that Max is her daughter.
While Max brims with bittersweet joy over seeing her mother alive again, everyone from both realities quickly realizes the situation is dire, and pools their talents to fight vengeful summer camp kid
Jason Voorhees Billy Murphy. Of course, since this is a slasher movie, the rules clearly specify that Billy must be killed by the only female character who makes it to the end credits: the Final Girl. So, it’s not a spoiler to say that most of Max’s friends, old and new, won’t make it out of the last act alive.
The Final Girls screenplay (by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, the latter of whom knows his way around 1980s genre movies, having starred in Teen Witch and Near Dark) is full of jokey references to classic summer-camp slashers—the terrible dialogue, the tacky costume choices (male counselor Kurt’s half-shirt is straight outta Sleepaway Camp), the fact that anyone who has sex is marked for an imminent, gruesome demise. It is hilariously spot-on in every way.
But this is no mere Scary Movie-style send-up. Much like Cabin in the Woods (which added a mythological element to the slasher backstory) and Scream (which was legit scary), The Final Girls has more to say, both about mother-daughter relationships and the long process of grieving—and it succeeds without crossing the line into sappiness.
Previous to this film, director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s best-known credit was A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Not for long, though—The Final Girls is destined for cult-classic status.