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  Final Girls, The Outrun The Past
Year: 2015
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Stars: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson, Reginald Robinson, Lauren Gros, Dan B. Norris, Eric Michael Carney, Cory Hart, Jackie Tuttle
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga) was happy enough a year ago, well, she had to deal with her actress mother Amanda (Malin Akerman), but she was content living with her and supporting her through those many tough auditions where Amanda tried to prove she wasn’t just that girl from that horror movie from the nineteen-eighties and had what it took to be a serious actress with genuine talent. But that fateful day after yet another audition, Amanda was driving back with Max and threw her bills and final demands out of the window, then started singing along with her favourite song on the car stereo – then the accident happened, killing her outright and leaving Max without her mother. So now, given an invite to a screening of her mother’s most famous movie, she balks…

That’s right, it was eighties retro time again, a strain of cultural revival that was dominating the early twenty-first century in a way that rivalled the nineties love of the sixties and seventies for engrossed nostalgia. But this had a deeper link to the past as one of the screenwriters was Joshua John Miller, and yes, he had appeared in eighties horror Near Dark as a kid, as well as not-horror-but-still-brutal teen film River’s Edge, but he was also the son of Jason Miller, who had starred in perhaps the most famous horror film of the twentieth century The Exorcist and had spent the rest of his career trying to live it down, such was the weird effect one megahit can have on a talent who doesn’t quite follow that up.

Certainly Miller’s plays did very well, so he had that alternative string to his bow, yet he would always be Father Karras to the majority of audiences, and if The Final Girls was to be believed, his son always wished another big success on him which never really came. Therefore this may have been a horror comedy, preferring the goofier side of the humour of the slasher rather than the splatstick of the actual decade it was paying tribute to, but it was also tempered with a surprisingly deeply felt sense of the emotional aspect of the characters and how they related to real life. The gimmick was that when Max and four pals go to see the revival of her mother’s signature shocker a fire breaks out and they are forced to escape through the torn screen.

Whereupon they find themselves in the actual Friday the 13th rip-off flick that they were supposed to be watching, but now are living. They meet the characters from the film within the film, including clown Adam DeVine, token person of colour Tory N. Thompson and regulation nympho Angela Trimbur, who seen through the modern eyes of the newcomers appear to be incredibly outdated in concept which may be applicable for some retro fun, but considering there is a serial killer at the rural camp they are counsellors at, two-dimensional personalities aren’t going to be easily persuaded that the pressing matter of impending death can be outwitted with genre savvy. You can see how what might have been simple was actually rather complicated.

And director Todd Strauss-Schulson nearly managed to pull this complex tone off, yet at the same time demonstrated that there was a reason vintage slashers, and even contemporary slashers, failed to delve into the inner lives of their characters, and that was that such concerns didn’t usually fit too well. When Max sees her mother’s role of nice virgin Nancy looking exactly as she remembered her late parent to look, it’s understandably wrenching, but we didn’t have the same sensation when all around was telling us we shouldn’t be taking it so seriously, or at least it sent a confusing message as to what our reaction should be. No doubt about it, there were some crunching gear changes in The Final Girls, but what kept it afloat were a brace of game performances – aside from the aforementioned Alia Shawkat was ideal as the snarky best friend, Nina Dobrev inhabited the bitchy pal who sees the error of her ways, and Thomas Middleditch took on the “guy in Scream who understands all the rules” part with nerdy satisfaction. It probably said too much to point out that Shawkat got the biggest laugh in the end credits outtakes, but the good cheer about what went before that made you warm to it, flaws and all. Music by Gregory James Jenkins (synths, natch).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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