“FINAL GIRL” (Movie Review)


FINAL GIRL is named for a longstanding convention of slasher films, but the movie doesn’t quite work as a variation on or subversion of that genre, or as anything else. It sure looks good, though.

Not to be confused with the more satirical THE FINAL GIRLS (coming in October), Tyler Shields’ directorial debut is the played-straight story of a quartet of teenage guys who lure unsuspecting girls into human-hunts, and get a big surprise when it turns out their latest target has been trained since childhood to be a hand-to-hand killer. That’s not a spoiler, as FINAL GIRL begins by introducing us to young, recently orphaned Veronica (Gracyn Shenyei) as she is interviewed by William (Wes Bentley), who will become her instructor and father figure. Twelve years later, she’s played by Abigail Breslin, has completed her long period of intense physical preparation and is given her first mission: set herself up as a “victim” of Jameson (Alexander Ludwig), who seduces young ladies into the woods where he and his friends Danny (Logan Huffman), Shane (Cameron Bright) and Nelson (Reece Thompson) set upon them with axes and other weapons.


So: We know from the first 15 minutes what the villains’ m.o. is, the details of what they do and why and how Veronica will be their “final girl.” And since it’s a pretty fair guess that she’ll succeed in giving the boys a taste of their own medicine, there isn’t a lot of suspense in the way the scenario spins out. Adam Prince’s script is instead concerned with the ways in which the characters interact on the way to and during the final night of hunting and killing, from Veronica’s burgeoning romantic feelings for William to the involvement of Shane’s girlfriend Jennifer (Emma Paetz). None of these add significant depth or understanding to the roles, though, despite well-judged performances by the three leads: Breslin, so good earlier this year in MAGGIE and before that in HAUNTER, maintains a sense of innocence beneath the exterior of her toughened-up killing machine, Bentley similarly adds touches of humanity to his ruthless ministrations and Ludwig is appropriately slimy as the leader of the pack.

From these villains’ dress and manner to the diner where they hang out, Shields mixes in quite a bit of ’50s fetishism, yet there’s a gritty modernity to the sequences with Veronica and William, leaving FINAL GIRL missing an aesthetic grounding that might compensate for its lack of a compelling narrative. Known previously as a photographer (whose works have included portraits of young women set against splattered blood), Shields certainly creates a series of darkly attractive tableaux in FINAL GIRL; he and cinematographer Gregory Middleton capture many evocatively backlit moments in the woods and a few heavily stylized shots that serve to enhance the emotions rather than appearing gratuitous. On the other hand, a story device allowing surrealism to slip into the climactic action feels out of place; by this point, we want to see Veronica delivering the coups de grace solo, not accompanied by hallucinatory avatars.

This angle does allow the filmmakers to pull one effective switcheroo at a crucial moment—which is pretty much the only time FINAL GIRL generates a bit of a spark. Since we’re set up not to feel much fear for Veronica, it doesn’t really stand as a horror film, and it’s missing the plot and emotional complexity of its many forebears in the young-female-assassin realm, from LA FEMME NIKITA to HANNA. Instead, it feels like the first act of a movie in which Veronica will then go on to more meaningful adventures, stretched out to 84 minutes.


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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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