‘The Final Girls’
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Stars: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman
3 (out of 5) Globes
The horror-comedy “The Final Girls” has two great hooks, one lifted, lovingly, from a classic and one that no film has ever exactly put on screen. Its main gimmick has little to do with the titular concept, about the feminist-ish cliche of having a female (usually virginal, as it were) be a horror entry’s lone survivor. The real drive is that it’s re-doing “Purple Rose of Cairo,” only instead of a Depression-era waif sauntering through a movie screen into a screwball comedy, it’s a bunch of youths sucked into a cheesy ’80s slasher.
That “The Final Girls” is able to make it to the last act before running out of steam and clever ways to milk its premise is impressive in itself. But there’s another ace up its sleeve. Our main character isn’t some gorehound out for midnight movie shenanigans. Max (Taissa Farmiga) attends a screening of some random “Friday the 13th” knockoff reluctantly, as it stars her mom, Nancy (Malin Akerman), who died in a nasty car accident when she was younger. That means that when Max and friends (the best of whom is the ever-sharp Alia Shawkat) go Mia Farrow (or “Last Action Hero”’s Schwarzenegger, as it were), they not encounter not only doomed one-dimensional horndogs but also her mom — or at least the fake version of her forever preserved in the movies.
Frankly, an entire film could revolve around this silly but still trenchant portrayal of grief. That it’s merely one of the better of many solid ideas, not as explored as it should be, isn’t a deal-breaker, even if the script — one of whose writers, Joshua John Miller, was once the kid vampire in another outside-the-box horror, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark” — isn’t entirely sure what to do with it.
“The Final Girls” ultimately has less in common with something like “Scream” than high-concept, sci-fi-heavy or at least just dorky cartoons. At least in spirit, its premise would easily fill an episode of “Futurama” or “Rick and Morty.” Like those shows, it combines a restless exploitation of a rich and comedic concept with a sincere and even gutting version of “heart.” Max’s open-wound relationship with a character who looks exactly like her dead mom but isn’t quite becomes the equivalent of the more unsparing “Futurama” episodes with a Fry-Leela romance subplot — something meant to upset more than soothe but ultimately not be really the focus. Then again, those shows only run a half-hour. This stretches things to 88 minutes and still feels as deep as a TV show slipped into a night of Adult Swim.