Watch enough Horror films and you notice Trends. Trends eventually become tropes, which eventually become cliches. Cliches lead to parody which begets apathy. Once things went down this road, most fans and critics wrote off the slasher genre as outdated and passe. Then something interesting happened. Wes Craven brought self awareness to the game. The Scream films, and even his earlier New Nightmare, to some extent, allowed audiences to revisit old territory with new twists. Whether you are a fan of the Scream films or not (personally I am not), it cannot be denied that their self awareness revitalized and preserved the sub-genre. Final Girl has much of that same spirit, though applied much differently.
The concept of the Final Girl appears in almost every slasher film, depicting the one girl virtuous enough to avoid the obvious death traps of sex and drugs and overcome her vulnerabilities in an empowering battle of wills with the killer, whom she will ultimately triumph over (more or less). Director Tyler Shields tells us a visually entrancing story of an orphan girl who is trained to fight maniacs by a man who has lost his family to “Bad Men”. Veronica positions herself to be the perfect bait, then the swiftest of executioners by beating them at their own game. The film appears to be set in the 1950s, or at least is borrowing heavily from the look for the sake of visual appeal. Further adding to the appeal is a pseudo-surrealist set design with stark white lighting, improbable use of spotlights and framing reminiscent of a stage play. It’s not style over substance, but both style and substance make very bold statements in this film.
The killers are a curious quartet of young men who get together and hunt pretty young girls in the woods. Led by Jameson, a charismatic boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it is implied he is used to getting his way in every scenario. To him, there are no limits. Whatever whim he has will be indulged, even those of a violent nature. Shane appears to be the Beta of the group, he is the only one with a long term girlfriend, but it is his insecurities with this relationship which feed his violent impulses. Nelson is the bland Momma’s Boy of the group. He has, what we are lead to believe is a complex, possibly dysfunctional relationship with his Mother and like many before and after, this fuels his violence towards women. Lastly we have Danny Boy. Danny is the frantic ball of unfocused energy that in later decades would be a poster-child for ADHD, but in the 50’s was just known as a Wild-Child. He is always on, can’t sit still or keep his mouth shut, and requires constant stimulation. The rush of the kill seems to be his drug of choice.
Abigail Breslin makes it very easy to forget her days as a chubby yet adorable oddball in Little Miss Sunshine. She’s grown into a gorgeous young woman as well as a damn fine actress. Her portrayal of Veronica is subtle yet intense when the mood calls for it. She is as focused and calculating as she is dangerous, but can slip into a disguise of vulnerability at will. Her relationship with her mentor William is complex as well. Their Sensei/Pupil relationship complex, similar to a father/daughter kinda deal…but not without its share of sexual tension. They are both pretty fucked up, but its clear that they need each other. It’s a fun dynamic that I enjoyed watching and enjoyed thinking about even more. Final Girl doesn’t reinvent the wheel, because it doesn’t need to. What it does is shows us a different side of the wheel that allows us to appreciate it in ways we may never have before. This highly stylized, self aware Slasher receives my highest recommendations!