“LAST GIRL STANDING” (NYC Horror Film Fest Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
As clever and exciting as the SCREAM franchise has been over the years, one of the franchise’s implicit flaws was never quite looking at Sidney Prescott’s psychological ramifications following each surpassing incident. In fact, very few horror franchises have addressed the trauma of surviving a “horror movie” scenario, and the few that have rarely do so in a realistic manner. And it’s exactly that realism that Benjamin R. Moody’s LAST GIRL STANDING attempts to ground itself in, investigating the “final girl” archetype through a post-modern lense that offers one of the most engrossing subversions on the genre in quite some time.
LAST GIRL STANDING follows Camryn, a young woman who remained as the sole survivor following the ritualistic slaughter of her friends by a masked serial killer. Four years later, after avoiding the media and living in self-imposed isolation, Camryn begins to finally warm up to new friends and a potential romance with a charismatic coworker. However, as her new life begins, the ghosts of the past begin to haunt her, and Camryn can’t tell if she’s finally gone off the deep end or if her nightmarish attacker has returned.
Presented as a character piece correlating post-traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt with a familiar fright trademark, LAST GIRL STANDING is a fascinating feature that never gets too meta or self-referential for its own good. By embracing the genre, LAST GIRL STANDING allows the boilerpot narrative to unfold like an independent drama while building towards a predictably visceral climax. Furthermore, LAST GIRL STANDING, while serious and, at times, contemplative, also knows the importance of humor to maintain a truly realistic base to the characters and their world, which also helps to elevate the danger and the stakes of the more tense moments. And to that extent, LAST GIRL STANDING is rather a superb effort, subverting expectations and creating a protagonist whose crumbling reality somehow feels voyeuristic, depending on the audience’s familiarity of the genre in which she (and her arc) exists.
Yet, in a strange way, perhaps LAST GIRL STANDING’s biggest issue lies in just how much the concept explicitly relies on the genre, and how straightforward LAST GIRL STANDING treats said genre. Outside of the FX-friendly finale, LAST GIRL STANDING offers an explicit cold open detailing Camryn’s survival in standard horror movie form, but considering most of that information is seen again via crime scene photos, newspaper clippings and conjecture, perhaps the film would be a bit more stronger had the “horror movie” elements been gaps for the audience to fill. Similarly, the “killer” at hand, is presented as a backwoods wildman ala MADMAN, DON’T GO IN THE WOODS and, to an extent, FRIDAY THE 13TH, which feels like an ultimately generic choice as opposed to going with a greater reveal that would offer more doubt to the presumption that Camryn is, indeed, going crazy.
Luckily, these frustrations are ultimately minor in comparison to the bigger picture of LAST GIRL STANDING, which is an impressively confident and well-executed effort from first-time writer/director Benjamin R. Moody. Aided by a fantastic, pulsating score by Linus Lau, immersive cinematography from Travis Jones, gruesome practical FX from Edwin Wise & Jason Vines, and a strongly-paced edit by Michael D. Black and Moody, LAST GIRL STANDING aims to offer more than your standard slow-burn fright flick and more than often succeeds at doing so. Moody also has the benefit of an incredible cast in front of the camera, anchored by a powerhouse performance by Akasha Villalobos and featuring stellar turns from Danielle Evon Ploeger, Brian Villalobos, Laura Ray, JD Carrera, Ryan Hamilton, Kelsey Pribilski, Chad Warren and Jason Vines.
Overall, LAST GIRL STANDING is a very clever spin on a strong “what if?” scenario rarely touched upon in the genre, offering plenty of good psychological dread until it’s time to return to horror territory. While it’s loyalty to the horror genre conventions somewhat hinder the film from reaching its ambition, the craft and story on display more than hold up on their own merits. And though the film isn’t necessarily the most unpredictable horror offering, LAST GIRL STANDING is a different breed of fright flick, which is certainly more gripping than- and preferable to- anything dull and by the numbers.