Todd Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls is a fresh, classically-driven horror film that not only uses some of the great, mind-numbing cliches the genre is known for, but he uses them to his advantage with an inventive spin on a story about the iconic final girl. In it, a young woman grieving the loss of her mother—a famous scream queen from the 1980s—finds herself pulled into the world of her mom’s most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film’s psycho killer.
Being the sole survivor in a horror movie is no easy task because there are a particular set of rules one must follow in order to make it to the film’s final reel. For starters, being a girl is an instant advantage because the very DNA of horror stems from the survivor girl, aka a final girl. We can date them back to the birth of horror, but perhaps one of the most important final girls is Psycho’s Lila Crane, who paved the way for girls against maniacal men, proving that if you can keep your clothes on for at least an hour and half, you might make it out alive!
Poor Sally Hardesty found herself at the dinner table of cannibals and even looked Leatherface right in those big, lifeless eyes of his and she still managed to escape the chainsaw-wielding madman. How did she do it? While she wasn’t much of a fighter (more of an escaper, if you will), she followed the number one rule of being a final girl—Sally kept her pants on and was granted the opportunity to ride into the sunset covered in blood. Way to go, Sally! And while both Lila and Sally showed the kind of heart and bravery it takes to be a final girl, it wasn’t until later—1978, to be exact—that the very foundation of being a final girl was changed forever.
On one cold Halloween night, Laurie Strode became a final girl unlike any we had ever seen before, a final girl as pure as there ever was and one that fought back! She discovered an unlikely safe haven against even the most vicious of foes—a closet! As the great slasher of Glen Echo, Leslie Vernon, once put it: The closet is a sacred place. It’s symbolic of the womb. It’s the safest place to be, because, in the womb, we are innocent. So, what happened to Michael Myers when he attacks Laurie in the closet? He got to feel that warm sensation of a metal clothes hanger being stabbed into his eyeball. But she didn’t stop there, she picked up Michael’s knife and ran it through his stomach, creating the most important weapon in a final girl’s arsenal—the killer’s own killing tool. If you can get your hands on their weapon (remember, it won’t be easy) then it’s your best shot at staying alive, and it’s Laurie we have to thank for that.
Of course, there’s even Ellen Ripley who took the skill set of a survivor girl and brought it deep into space! Guys, she fought beings from another world; Xenomorphs with acid for blood and superior intelligence, all while drifting through space with nothing but a flamethrower and the sheer discipline of keeping it in her pants. Ellen proved that being a final girl was more than just surviving, that you can be a final girl and a badass at the same time. Awesome.
And then there’s Nancy Thompson, who couldn’t even fight her tormentor in the physical world! While Freddy would ultimately get the best of her (you can’t really kill Freddy), Elm Street couldn’t have asked for a better final girl, one that channels her inner Kevin McCallister and goes all Home Alone on Krueger’s ass. The point here is that a final girl finds a way to survive whether she’s in a nightmare, outer space, or even a closet, they survive even the scariest of monsters because that’s what they do and the genre wouldn’t know what to do without ’em.
Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls channels the very spirit of what it means to stay alive amidst the presence of a hulking monster, one that carries a giant machete and can chop you up into a nice pile of man-sushi. The film is a stylistic blend of horror and humor that takes the storied slasher genre to a place it has never been before while still being grounded in familiarity. It embraces the genre as an ode to the amazing women that make it further than any of us ever could, and it does so brilliantly. It shines a light on why we love horror (warts and all), and better yet, the reason it’s the best genre in cinema—because it helps us face our fears through a narrative filled with monsters and terror. And who better than a final girl to take us through that journey?