The best meta-horror works as both meta and horror (see SCREAM), and it’s hard to say how well FINAL GIRL reads to a viewer who isn’t a horror fan. As a concept – comely blonde teen girl plays vigilante to misogynistic killer teen boys – FINAL GIRL is not necessarily new, and we’ve perhaps seen it done better (see BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER). But that doesn’t rule FINAL GIRL out as a worthy addition to the female-revenge fantasy subgenre, of which there will never be enough, in this horror fan’s humble opinion.
The film opens with horror known Wes Bentley (P2) interviewing a little girl after her parents died to determine whether she’s a good candidate for an unspecified Program where he’d train her for an unspecified Mission. The little girl shows minimal emotional distress at the death of her parents, indicating at least borderline anti-social personality tendencies to match the emotional detachment of the trainer in question, whose own state of mind is revealed to have traumatic roots.
Shift to little girl Veronica grown up in the form of another horror favorite Abigail Breslin (a standout in her first film, M. Night Shyamalan’s SIGNS). Taking a disaffected tack, Breslin and Bentley unsettle, but the viewer will eventually realize that the style continues throughout the movie – these detached, damaged loners are no more fully human than the young men they hunt. Takes a maniac to catch a maniac, and all that. But driven by Bentley’s characters compass of righteous violence, perhaps we are meant to at least be glad they’re fighting for the right ‘side.’
It’s no coincidence that the director chose to film the whole movie in disaffected noir style, set vaguely in the 1950s but with cocktail dresses and suits from more modern times. The brief training sequences are set in a warehouse without a stitch of extraneous furniture – a chair here, a bed, concrete as a bunker and expansive as a warehouse, with a government-issued older man instructing a young woman (age indeterminate, as adept at appearing fourteen as twenty-five, though Breslin was around nineteen when the movie came out) in a black cocktail dress and undeniable and deliberately uncomfortable sexual tension driven not by the man but by the manipulative sociopath who has nonetheless bonded with her captor.
A less than hopping diner in unappetizing yellow/brown tones straight from a Hopper painting. Bright lights through the black forest as though the moon could cast such light and shadow, spotlighting victims in white and pursuers in suits as well as Veronica in predatory red and innocent china face.
Cue, blonde bait to the pack of wolves in 50s dialogue yet modern accent. My favorite part of the whole movie is when we’re introduced to the wolf pack gathering together to fleece the rabbit. We get beautifully noir images homaging Hitchcock and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, among other notes I couldn’t distinguish. Exquisite use of light and shadow, which is true through the entire movie, but especially stylistic here. The movie might as well be black, white, and sepia except for Veronica’s red dress and lips.
Alexander Ludwig (Cato in THE HUNGER GAMES) plays true to type, and he plays it well, the gleeful sociopath – attractive, also blond, and the clever foil to our homicidal Girl Friday. SPOILER When he lights up at the sight of her in the woods during the hunt, after seeing what she’s done to his other boys, you truly believe he’s found a kindred spirit far worthier than his wolf pack compatriots, a much more appropriate love story than the one between girl and trainer (and still a better love story than TWILIGHT, jk).
I enjoyed the movie much better in my second viewing, perhaps because I could appreciate the style, which is net greater than the substance of the story. But aside from some underwhelming fight scenes (I think Breslin did most of her own stunts, and the lack of perceived power behind the blows shows and doesn’t quite work as choreographed violence like a dance), this little bit of meta-horror pays beautiful, disquieting, trippy tribute to the last girl standing.