I wanted a lot of things from Final Girl. I wanted lots of gore. I wanted lots tension. I wanted to watch a semi-crazed Abigail Breslin hunting down and tormenting a group of boys with righteous, feminist vengeance for the murdered women of her prey, driven by a twisted sense of sisterhood. I wanted an answer to I Spit On Your Grave: a perfect movie where the girl goes un-assaulted, instead taking revenge for the victims of the archetypal group of psychotic, over entitled white dudes.
Going into Final Girl with these expectations was probably a mistake because a movie would have had to be a genre-breaking work of art to meet them. I wanted a badass feminist manifesto, which was asking too much from Final Girl. There were moments where it seemed like that was what the film was trying to deliver–moments like Abigail Breslin staring defiantly into the camera, bloodied but standing, popping her nose back into place after breaking it. Unfortunately these moments were eclipsed by lacking acting from the ensemble, strange lighting choices, and really weird dialogue.
Final Girl opens on a young Veronica (Breslin) sitting across from William (Wes Bentley). Her parents have just been killed, and William sees something in her. He runs her through a few on-the-spot tests and asks if she would like to come with him to learn to do a special job. It is never specified whether they work for an agency or a secret branch of the government, but the implication is that she is being taken to be trained as some kind of super-hitwoman. Cut to twelve years later, Veronica has been spending her time training to be an assassin with William and is preparing to take down a group of small town boys who inexplicably wear full suits and suspenders every night of the week. These boys are targeted because their hobby is tricking blonde girls into going into the woods with them so they can hunt them like a cackling hipster knock-off of the gang from A Clockwork Orange. A blonde, covert Veronica puts herself out as bait, making the boys believe they’ve lured another victim until she turns the tables.
Final Girl felt like it was trying so hard to tell me something, but I was not getting it. Every scene was lit with a flood light like an alien abduction in X-Files. I could not comprehend the detached performances of some of the actors and the manic performances of others. After the gang takes a powerful hallucinogen, there are a bunch of unintelligible trip sequences enabling Veronica to swoop in for the kill. The most confusing part of this movie was the indecipherable time period. The clothes seemed vaguely period, but also vaguely modern. Nobody used cell phones, and the cars were all older models. It wasn’t quite modern enough or quite vintage enough to be placed. This can be done well. The horror gem It Follows intentionally obscured its time period, placing futuristic technology in shots with furniture and fashion from the last five decades to great effect. But in Final Girl, it was distracting because I spent a large chunk of the movie trying to figure out where they were, who everyone was, or what the hell was even happening.
I would really like to see Abigail Breslin do more horror under better direction, maybe even with a female director. Her character never felt like the natural choice, but it was at least an interesting departure from the archetype of the brainwashed, child super-soldier. She stumbled, her fights were sometimes clumsy, and she got very hurt. I wish that the film had explored the stakes and aftermath further, the physical and emotional consequences of the actions of these monstrous boys.
As far as I know, the creators of Final Girl have not specifically claimed it to be feminists, or to have goals of promoting female empowerment, so maybe it’s unfair to judge the movie on those grounds. But I wanted so badly for it to be a subversion of the string of movies featuring a girl slaughtering the men that raped her. I wanted it to be Abigail Breslin kicking ass in the name of all the girls that have been victimized on screen in horror films.
In horror, the Final Girl is a common trope. She is the last survivor of a horrific event, usually the gruesome murder of her entire friend group or family. She is a survivor by circumstance, managing to wade sobbing through 90 minutes of constant fear and victimization. Final Girl could have been a statement, a re-appropriation of the trope. It could have been about a girl who swoops in and tells the horror genre that we are not your victims, we are here to slay. Instead, it doesn’t really say anything.
Final Girl is now available on VOD and Digital HD across Canada.