'The Final Girls': LAFF Review

Courtesy of Los Angeles Film Festival
Fairly predictable, but mostly in a good way 

Malin Akerman and Taissa Farmiga co-star in Todd Strauss-Schulson’s time-shifting horror comedy.

Genre enthusiasts will get a kick out of Todd Strauss-Schulson’s creative homage to classic slasher movies, which respects familiar horror conventions while introducing a sly contemporary perspective. This type of hybrid comedic material can prove very accessible, although effective promotion will need to rely on key fan segments to motivate a broader audience.

We first encounter California teenager Max (Taissa Farmiga) several years after the unexpected death of her struggling-actress mother, Amanda (Malin Akerman), in a freak car accident, when she reluctantly accepts an invitation to attend a screening of Amanda’s best-known film, '80s slasher fan-favorite Camp Bloodbath. Her best friend Gertie’s (Alia Shawkat) ironic hipster brother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch) has programmed the title, now a raucously celebrated cult classic, at a local Encino theater and asked Max to attend as a guest of honor to discuss her mother’s lead role as camp counselor Nancy. When she and Gertie arrive at the theater, Max is secretly pleased to encounter Chris (Alexander Ludwig), a cute classmate who clearly has a crush on her, but not so psyched about his ex-girlfriend Vicki (Nina Dobrev) showing up as well.

Things go wrong almost from the start, when over-enthusiastic fans partying during the more raucous scenes set the theater ablaze. Max grabs her friends and forces her way through the movie screen so that they can escape from the theater. What they discover on the other side is some place familiar but entirely implausible: Camp Bluefinch, aka Camp Bloodbath. As Max, Chris, Vicki, Duncan and Gertie try to sort out how they’ve somehow ended up in Amanda's 1986 horror flick, they decide the safest strategy is to team up with Camp Bloodbath’s lead characters. Explaining that they’re new counselors for the season, they introduce themselves to alpha-male Kurt (Adam DeVine), airhead Tina (Angela Trimbur) and innocent-looking Nancy (Akerman).

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Duncan is the first to conclude that serial slasher Billy (Dan Norris) will soon be turning up wielding his outsize machete to eviscerate any teens foolish enough to be having sex. Max immediately realizes that Nancy is perhaps most at risk, as’s planning to lose her virginity during a secret tryst with habitual horndog Kurt. While Max tries to persuade Nancy to keep her clothes on, Chris attempts to distract Kurt. Billy swiftly attacks when various other characters develop amorous inclinations, however, and the body count begins to climb. As Max and her friends try to protect Nancy, they discover that they also could become targets of Billy’s retribution.

After working extensively in TV and directing A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, Strauss-Schulson brings an appropriately wacky comedic style to The Final Girls. Co-writers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller have shamelessly raided the horror-movie canon, efficiently repurposing familiar references to amusing effect, without neglecting nods to Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and similar fare. Their imaginative re-creation of the doomed stock characters and summer camp setting is faithful to the genre, while introducing an entirely new level of cast dynamics with the addition of Max and her contemporary cohorts.

After a series of smaller TV and indie film appearances, Farmiga (Vera’s youngest sister) adequately fills the co-starring role, but remains burdened by a character who's too often portrayed as either exceedingly practical or overly vulnerable. Akerman demonstrates stronger comic chops as the nominal scream queen but doesn’t manage the manic range of much of the supporting cast, which predictably runs amok throughout much of the film.

Production designer Katie Byron maximizes the former Louisiana scout camp setting with slightly exaggerated period decor, while costume designer Lynette Meyer goes for a more realistic retro look with the wardrobe selections. Greg Jenkins’ synth-driven score smartly syncs up with a selection of offbeat '80s tracks that provide temporal continuity, especially for the time-traveling characters.

Production company: Stage 6

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Adam DeVine, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Angela Trimbur, Dan Norris

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

Screenwriters: M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller

Producers: Michael London, Janice Williams

Executive producers: Darren Demetre, M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller

Director of photography: Elie Smolkin

Production designer: Katie Byron

Costume designer: Lynette Meyer

Editor: Debbie Berman

Music: Greg Jenkins

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