Misogynistic or Empowering: Digging Deep into “The Final Girls” — a meta-slasher that is so much more than a meta-slasher.
The Final Girls, if I may insert my opinion is one of the cleverest meta-slashers that I have seen in a long time. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson sticks a group of “real” kids, who fit all the usual slasher stereotypes, in a “fictional” movie that, of course, has its own group of slasher stereotypes.
Then there is the conflict Max and her friends face on whether to warn the fictional characters or let the movie play out and just watch. And of course, there’s the real question: who is going to be the Final Girl?
Teenager Max (Taissa Farmiga) reluctantly attends a screening of a cheesy 80s slasher movie that starred her late mother (Malin Akerman) with her friends. When an accident causes the movie theater to catch on fire, Max and her friends are sucked into the silver screen and become trapped in the film, Camp Bloodbath. Max has to find a way to help get her friends back to real-life while also finding closure with the help of the movie version of her mother.
The Final Girl is still such a fascinating topic to explore, especially nowadays where the survivor doesn’t have to be a virgin or even a girl. And yet horror fans go back and forth over whether the concept of the Final Girl – in the traditional sense anyway – is empowering or misogynistic.
Frankly, I think it’s a little of both, but Strauss-Schulson does the Final Girl a solid by making all of the main female characters so complex.
We have Vicki (Nina Dobrev) who is your typical mean girl, but she’s also a badass in her own right and used to be friends with Max. Then we have Gertie (Alia Shawkat) who is a nerdy, quirky girl who, much to Max’s surprise is not actually a virgin. Nancy, the movie version of Amanda, Max’s mom, starts out as a virgin who has a crush on Kurt (Adam Devine) and just wants her first time to be special. It’s this little tidbit that makes Nancy such a refreshing female horror movie character, she’s normal – sad that a normal female character is refreshing, right?
Nancy, like a lot of girls, has it ingrained in her brain that being a virgin isn’t “cool,” and it takes Max, who takes on a parent role, funnily enough, to teach her otherwise. Lately, I feel like the Final Girl is either the typical virginal character, or the complete opposite, and Nancy is a nice middle ground to those extremes — and one I’d like to see more in the horror genre.
There is a point where Max is singled out as the only virgin left. It’s interesting because there aren’t really moments like this in other slasher movies (because most aren’t this self-aware), where every character says in so many words if they are a virgin or not. While the singling out of the virgin isn’t a new concept, I thought the most interesting part of the scene was Vicki making a big deal about how she is a virgin, when Chris (Alexander Ludwig) calls her out on it.
In this day and age, most people are very aware of slut-shaming, but here we have this movie where females are coveting the virgin role because in a slasher movie. “virgin” is synonymous with “Final Girl” which is synonymous with “Badass of the Movie.” Not only that, but Max gives up the role to Nancy, as she becomes a bit obsessed with saving her mom, knowing full well it won’t bring her real mom back.
And this all brings us to my favorite thing about The Final Girls, the fact that the movie is more than a meta-slasher, it’s a touching story about a daughter who loses her mom.
A lot of slashers make it a point to be pretty much devoid of adults and focus on the teens, so there can be lots of romance and sex scenes. Don’t get me wrong, there is still some romance between Max and Chris, but it’s very light and comes almost as an afterthought to the rest of the movie. Usually, in a slasher film, the virgin/Final Girl character has a boyfriend or love interest, and that relationship takes up a lot of the movie; that doesn’t happen here.
To conclude what was supposed to be an analysis of ‘The Final Girls’ (let’s be honest, this is a full-on love letter), this movie manages to embrace both sides of the Final Girl. By following the slasher paradigm, pushing the virgin Final Girl thing is kind of tired and misogynistic; but then we have these amazing characters and a heart-wrenching mother-daughter relationship that elevates this movie from it’s peers.
I’m sad to say that there aren’t many other films like The Final Girls out there right now, but I hope to see so much more of this in the future.