In the ‘80s, it became apparent that characters that committed certain sins in slasher films — sex, drugs, alcohol — were destined to literally get the axe. These signs of imminent death gradually evolved into rules for surviving a horror movie, as so eloquently expressed in Wes Craven’s self-referential slasher Scream. But in addition to the killer’s practices, another convention emerged — the sole survivor or hero of these bloody rampages was almost always a young woman. She became known as the “final girl” and a symbol of female strength (though there were definitely some issues with her construction). Now a movie has taken the title and used it to turn the tables on the attackers in Final Girl.
Veronica (Abigail Breslin) was a young orphan when William (Wes Bentley) first found her. After confirming she was smart and practical, he offered her a place to live while he taught her things. A decade or so later, she’s become an adept fighter and is ready to avenge the deaths of his family. In the meantime there is a group of four young men (Cameron Bright, Logan Huffman, Alexander Ludwig and Reece Thompson) who have also become accomplished killers. After asking a pretty girl on a date, they lure her into the woods where they hunt and murder her. This group is Veronica’s ultimate target and the mission for which William has trained her.
This film redefines the role of the final girl in horror movies. Instead of beginning as the serial killers’ would-be-victim-turned-survivor, Veronica starts as a predator luring her prey into a trap — which is also exactly what her suitors believe they’re doing. The tide turns rather quickly as soon as the chase is set in motion with Veronica immediately setting upon her targets rather than running and hiding as they expect.
The movie is also very aware of its slasher roots, playing on a number of concepts inherent to the genre. Yet it does so without ever becoming a conventional example of those types of pictures. It sets the main action in the woods, which is a long-established place of terror; the boys use traditional weapons like an axe and baseball bat; and the victims are primarily female as is their avenger. Moreover, drinking is also a cardinal offence that is enhanced with a spiked beverage.
On the other hand, the film’s aesthetic is very unusual. Set in the ‘50s, a diner that serves excellent milkshakes is one of the main locations. All the girls wear lovely long dresses, and do their hair and make-up for their ill-fated dates. The guys regularly wear suits and dress up in tuxedos when they go hunting. It gives the movie a fantastical sense that is shattered by the violence. Yet when Veronica and William are preparing, the time period is completely anonymous and irrelevant. It’s an interesting choice for photographer Tyler Shields’ directorial debut and keeps the film visually appealing even when the story is faltering.
The main premise of the film is similar to an Asian picture called Gun Woman, in which a young prostitute is rehabilitated by a stranger and trained to be a professional assassin to avenge the brutal murder of his wife. The difference between these two films is this version is rapid fire, moving through her education and reprisal very quickly and fairly superficially. The vengeance Veronica and William design is tactical. Planning and orchestrating various scenarios, she is prepared to have and take back the advantage in any situation; but one never feels engaged in her education.
The wolf pack led by Ludwig is convincing in their deranged behaviour and gruesome hobby; but Huffman draws special attention as the “cool guy,” who has a special musical ritual before going out for the night. Bentley’s role is limited and emotionless, but he’s still adequate in that capacity. Breslin maintains a sweet demeanour throughout the movie, enjoying most aspects of her mission. Physically she’s not seen doing a lot, but still seems capable even when she appears outmatched.