“Can a film survive based on its premise alone?” If I had a pound for every time I’ve had to ask myself that over my years with Popcorn Horror, I would have some pounds. It’s a query I’m tired of having to ask myself in the genre, yet here I am, adding another quid to the pile.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s The Final Girls premise is promising: a group of real, modern day kids (including protagonist Max Cartwright, played by Taissa Farmiga) get sucked into fictional eighties slasher movie Camp Bloodbath. To survive they must not only avoid being murdered by deliberately archetypal slasher Billy Murphy (Daniel Norris), but see the movie through to completion, while dealing with the caricature personalities of inhabitant slasher fodder.
That is an entertaining premise, right? It contains plenty of neat little jokes. Things like time and date intertitles appearing as a physical objects and having to be stepped over, or characters being unable to keep their clothes on or speak in nothing but crude innuendos.
It’s nice to see some of these loving jabs at the slasher genre take on story meaning, like the use of recounting the killer’s origin story triggering characters being time displaced into a flashback.
The film does feel the need to weave a heavy dose of sentimentality into its fabric however. Max’s mother, Amanda, (Malin Åkerman), died in a car crash before the main thrust of the film. Amanda played Nancy in Camp Bloodbath, and by entering the movie Max can now spend time with her. Unfortunately the usually reliable actresses and the writing for this portion of the movie make a minor hash of it. There’s little chemistry between the leads and you know how it’s going to end the moment Max steps into the movie.
Every other element of the film, exactly like that relationship story, is just fine. Nothing stands out. Some jokes amuse, others don’t. Exaggerated acting becomes annoying. And it’s all very bloodless, which feels very counter to the genre The Final Girls is saluting.
Yet, the premise is there. The premise is really good, and it carries the other, less enjoyable aspects of the film. But does the premise pull the rest of the movie through? Yes. Just about.