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Witty 'Final Girls' is surprisingly sweet given its subject matter
"The Final Girls." - photo by Josh Terry
The Final Girls is a fun and surprisingly sweet send-up of one of Hollywoods most tedious and celebrated genres: the slasher film.

Back in the 1980s, boogeymen like Freddy Krueger, and Jason and Michael Meyers hacked their way through dozens of young victims in dozens of films. The formula was simple: take a group of young adults, isolate them and watch the bad guy dispatch each character in creative, gruesome ways.

The lone survivor or final girl of each film was traditionally a virginal female who managed to avoid the killers wrath (the sexually active characters were often the first to be killed as part of a strange moral theme). It was this pure character who typically found a way to turn the tables on the bad guy, at least until the next sequel.

Final Girls is a fun twist on this scenario. Taissa Farmiga plays Max, the daughter of a deceased 1980s scream queen (Malin Akerman) whose movie star aspirations never rose above cheap slasher flicks. When Max reluctantly attends a celebratory screening of one of her mothers most infamous credits Camp Bloodbath, a thinly veiled knock-off of Friday the 13th an incident at the theater projects her and a few friends into the fictional film.

Once they figure out they are inside the movie, Final Girls becomes a quest to find a way back to the real world before Camp Bloodbaths machete-toting villain Billy (Dan B. Norris) gets to them. Hitch No. 1 is that their presence throws off the films original plot, so Max and company have to improvise. Hitch No. 2 is that to survive they have to interact with the original films cast that includes Maxs suddenly very alive mother.

Final Girls isnt the first movie to show self-aware characters using their knowledge of horror films to plot an escape. Drew Goddards Cabin in the Woods and Wes Cravens Scream mined that ground a while back. But give director Todd Strauss-Schulson some serious credit here. Final Girls still manages to use a quick wit and a few surprises to keep things interesting for the audience.

The strangest thing about Final Girls is that we have a PG-13 film celebrating a decidedly R-rated genre. The slasher genre made its mark with over-the-top gore and sexual content. Final Girls isnt anywhere near family friendly, but its quite a bit more muted than the movies it pokes fun at.

The most surprising thing about Final Girls is how sweet it is. The subplot about Max and her mother leads to a number of tender scenes, and Final Girls has a genuine heart in the middle of all of its experimentation and social commentary. None of the characters are especially deep, but almost all of them are easier to cheer for than the cannon fodder of the Friday the 13th films.

Final Girls is a fairly low-budget effort, and its cracks show here and there over its 92-minute running time. Its an under-the-radar film that will likely have to cruise at that altitude. But sometimes its easier to pull for an overachieving underdog than a big-budget Goliath that mails in the effort.

The Final Girls is rated PG-13 for some grizzly violence (mostly played for laughs), sexual content (mostly dialogue), and some profanity (including one use of the F-word).