Sign up for the Film Comment Letter today to get original film writing delivered to your inbox every week! >>

Short Takes: The Final Girls

(Todd Strauss-Schulson, U.S., 2015)

Born in 1980, Todd Strauss-Schulson may not have been old enough to watch slasher films at their pinnacle, but he’s certainly done his catch-up work on the subgenre since. His sophomore feature is a sharp, wickedly funny, and unexpectedly heartfelt homage (co-written by Joshua John Miller, that amazingly creepy child actor so memorable in Near Dark and River’s Edge). At its emotional core lies a tragic mother-daughter relationship: an ex–scream queen (Malin Akerman) dies, leaving her only child, teenager Max (Taissa Farmiga), distraught and missing her desperately. Three years later, at a revival screening of Mom’s crowning glory, Camp Bloodbath, a freak fire finds Max and four friends fleeing the theater through the screen... and directly into the movie (for an unusual family reunion if there ever was one).

It’s a gimmicky premise, perhaps, but a highly effective one. No mere meta-exercise, the film innovatively blends the worlds of the 1986 teens of Camp Bloodbath with the modern-day ones, prisoners of the high-camp classic, who must contend with a menacing Jason figure—the masked Billy, a vengeance-seeking victim of past bullying at the camp—as well as the occasional flashback and run-in with slow-motion.

Aside from its too bright, non-celluloid look, The Final Girls betrays its influences only in its PG-13 rating, which precludes the nudity and gore so emblematic of the real slashers. But no matter, the film moves along so quickly that viewers will hardly notice.