Re­venge of the hor­ror cliché

The tide turns on a tired hor­ror film trope in The Fi­nal Girls

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - CARLY MAGA

For decades, “the fi­nal girl” has limped, scratched, jumped and stabbed her way to the end of hor­ror movies. She’s one of the most rec­og­niz­able tropes in a genre full of them; but now the fi­nal girl is — fi­nally — be­com­ing the star.

The Fi­nal Girls, play­ing at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val as part of its Mid­night Mad­ness pro­gram, fea­tures a group of mod­ern-day movie­go­ers sucked into a cult 1980s slasher flick.

It joins two other re­cent movies that riff on the trope — Tyler Shields’ sim­i­larly ti­tled Fi­nal Girl and Ben­jamin R. Moody’s Last Girl Stand­ing — both al­low­ing the fi­nal girl to star in her own movie and not the killer’s.

The Fi­nal Girls stars not one but sev­eral hero­ines fac­ing off against a masked killer. Di­rec­tor Todd Strauss-Schul­son and writ­ers Joshua John Miller and M.A. Fortin set out to make a movie that pays homage to the slasher genre while pok­ing holes in its dated stereo­types: the shy vir­gin, the over­sex­u­al­ized mean girl, the jock, the vil­lain who never dies and ev­ery­one’s in­ex­pli­ca­ble com­pul­sion to make bad choices in near-death sit­u­a­tions.

“We’re play­ing the game; we’re do­ing the rules,” Strauss-Schul­son says about the hor­ror-com­edy, which fol­lows a group of friends who team up with the fic­tional camp coun­sel­lors in the movie Camp Blood­bath and use hor­ror tropes to de­feat the evil, ma­chete-wield­ing Billy Mur­phy.

The sit­u­a­tion is more com­plex than life or death for the main char­ac­ter Max (Taissa Farmiga), who’s mourn­ing the sud­den loss of her mother Amanda (Malin Ak­er­man), an ac­tress whose big­gest role was as a doomed coun­sel­lor in Camp Blood­bath. Plunged into a world where her mother’s life can still be saved, Max de­cides her own isn’t the only one she wants to fight for.

“I thought it was smart to tell a story about be­reave­ment, loss and death in a genre that doesn’t take it very se­ri­ously at all,” says StraussSchul­son, who lost his own fa­ther shortly be­fore read­ing the script of The Fi­nal Girls. “It’s re­ally not try­ing to rel­ish in the plea­sure of the deaths.”

Since Carol J. Clover coined the term “fi­nal girl” in her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chain­saws, hor­ror movie hero­ines have un­der­gone sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant changes, ex­plains Alexan­dra West, hor­ror jour­nal­ist and host of the pod­cast “The Fac­ulty of Hor­ror.” And not all of them have been for the bet­ter; West says that for ev­ery two steps for­ward the fi­nal girl takes, another film sets her one back.

Though it was sig­nif­i­cant to see young women phys­i­cally fight and out­smart a vil­lain, ear­lier de­pic­tions of fi­nal girls had some ob­vi­ous is­sues: they were shy and vir­ginal, im­me­di­ately dropped their weapon af­ter think­ing they had de­feated the killer, and were ul­ti­mately res­cued or com­forted by a man. But later in­car­na­tions broke the mould.

The late Wes Craven, in par­tic­u­lar, was known for mak­ing his fi­nal girls (Nancy in Night­mare on Elm Street and Sid­ney in Scream) flawed, brave, sex­ual and vic­to­ri­ous. For West, Scream’s Sid­ney Prescott was a turn­ing point for the fi­nal girl and ac­tu­ally ig­nited her in­ter­est in the hor­ror genre.

“I think we’re in a pe­riod now where if you’re not do­ing Sid­ney, you have to specif­i­cally re­act against Sid­ney and make that clear,” she says.

“Women still have a hard time in hor­ror films. They’re con­stantly be­ing mar­tyred or de­i­fied, and we’re still sort of strug­gling with the idea of a woman be­ing any­thing other than that,” West says. “I think the fi­nal girl trope con­tin­ues to be so in­ter­est­ing be­cause it’s con­stantly fluid.”

For Strauss-Schul­son, chang­ing the fi­nal girl trope is very suit­able to 2015.

“This is a movie star­ring mostly women, all sup­port­ing each other and kick­ing ass with each other, and the guys are emo­tional,” he says, adding that even the stereo­typ­i­cal char­ac­ters within the movie be­come self­aware and strong.

“It does feel like there’s a trend to­ward more emo­tional sen­si­tiv­ity. So I think it’s in­ter­est­ing that there’s a new slasher movie that is re­ally try­ing hard to pull on your heart­strings.

“It’s not about the body count, it’s about the af­ter­math of the body count,” he says.

The Fi­nal Girls pre­mieres Satur­day at mid­night at the Ry­er­son Theatre.

HI­LARY BRON­WYN GAYLE/COUR­TESY TIFF

The Fi­nal Girls joins a cho­rus of re­cent movies that sub­vert the old hor­ror trope of the last girl stand­ing fac­ing off against a killer.

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