Ed. note- – I wrote this review a few weeks before the Kathy Griffith photo of her and a bloody, decapitated President Trump head. That photo was taken by Tyler Shield, who coincidentally directed FINAL GIRL. As for our beloved Abby, The Abigail Breslin curse haunts us all. Avoid the DIRTY DANCING remake now that it’s on Amazon, or perish from the curse. Which reminds me, I still have to see THE FINAL GIRLS… — P.F.
I’m starting to think any time Abigail Breslin’s name is attached to a horror vehicle, that’s a sign to avoid it. I recently tortured myself watching Season 2 of Scream Queens, but that’s just the nadir of the heap. She’s also been in the Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie bomb MAGGIE, and perhaps the greatest horror of all, the DIRTY DANCING television remake. I stayed away from FINAL GIRL for a while on the recommendation of friends, but that had nothing to do with poor Abigail. Once I realized she was the lead, I should’ve ditched it and watched something else. But I love Wes Bentley, and the premise sounded at the least interesting. Oh, did it follow the Abby Breslin trend. Which is a shame, because it has some solid acting and some intriguing concepts it never lives up to.
Oddly, the AB trend isn’t a reflection on Abby herself. She’s a very talented young actress, whose presence in SIGNS and ZOMBIELAND used to reflect quality movies. Even in Scream Queens, which is absolute trash, she manages not to make a buffoon of herself in spite of awful, awful writing and all the buffoonery surrounding her. But let’s face it. She’s been bogged down in awful material for a while now, when her talent suggests she should have a better career. That said, her acting in FINAL GIRL is one of the few shining points.
The flick starts off with a 12-year old Veronica. Her family’s recently died, and Bentley’s William has become her surrogate parent. He’s questioning her, and when he asks if she’s upset about her parents, she replies it’s a fact of life that people die. William trains her to be a detached, emotionless assassin. Skip ahead six years and he’s got her ready for her first mission: to take out four local youths who’ve been stalking and killing women in the woods.
Their relationship is odd. He obviously cares for Veronica, but in a detached way. She clearly looks at him as a father figure, yet at one point she wants to have sex with him as she cuddles up to him in bed. The training is more important than any parental warmth; he’s raising her to be a high functioning sociopath with intent. But for a good cause.
That cause is killing four doo-woppers who dress in sleek suits and hang around in the local diner, drinking milkshakes and choosing victims. Head baddie Nelson is an obvious control freak: he straight out tells Veronica that she’s going to hang out with them, when to meet them and where. A cool mean streak exudes from him, where the others appear more fun loving. He’s the master of the game, and it should be interesting to see what happens if Veronica steals that control and manipulates the game herself.
Should be. But it never gets there. The problem is that the whole film is detached. Everything is cold and distant, where either the anger of a slasher flick or some dumb fun would’ve made this a good flick. Even when the four boys play a game of truth or dare with Veronica to set up the chase, the scene just kind of hangs there. There’s also a sequence where the four are drugged with a concoction that brings out their worst fears. Which gives potential for all sorts of fun stuff that would draw me into the minds of psycho killers. But these psychos have some of the blandest fears in the history of fear. For Bentley’s character to be detached is okay, and even makes sense, given what he’s training Veronica to do; but for the whole film to be so, makes for a boring time. FINAL GIRL could have used either a cheeky smile and wink or a mean streak to match Nelson’s. It has neither, and barely registers.
Veronica is the only character with any emotion, or empathy for that matter. Situated between William and the psychos, it’s clear she wants to eradicate the baddies not just because of the mission, but because they’re evil. There’s a key scene where she and a girlfriend of one of the psychos share a conversation over a milkshake; she gets to know the potential victim, and can empathize with her on a human level, not just as a headline in the papers. Again, Breslin is a capable actress. She adds some much welcomed depth to Veronica. In her training sessions with William, she comes across as a real teen struggling to figure out her classroom assignments. There’s something sweet when Breslin plays out her burgeoning sexual desires in that cuddle scene with William. But her performance is wasted in a clinically icy film.
The detached nature of the film and its beautifully lit and shot look are both likely on the director. Tyler Shield is a photographer, and with his first film he’s assembled what should be a collection of gorgeous photos. He’s shunned any chance to build emotional attachment with his audience at the sake of the image. With some more seasoning, maybe he can learn to use those lovely images to tell a story as compelling as they are. It’s a damn shame, because he’s got the elements for a really intriguing story all right at his disposal, but never puts it together. If nothing else, it’s a beautiful film to look at.
So there’s the bad and the good of FINAL GIRL. Every so often, I write a review in which there’s some element worth discussing which I can’t quite qualify as bad or good, and this is one of those flicks. The story doesn’t ever explicitly state it’s a period piece, but there’s a heavy 1950s vibe throughout. The diner is more a soda shop; the cars and clothing are all from that period; there’s even a game of mailbox baseball that seems copped from STAND BY ME. In one of the flick’s few memorable scenes, one psycho sings along to a doo wop tune into the head of an axe as he prepares for the night’s slaughter. Any mention of McCarthyism or Elvis Presley wouldn’t have been out of place in the dialogue. I think Shield did this more so for the visuals, given there’s no reason to tie it to that decade. If anything, I like it because it adds some flair to a movie without much of it, and if you’re going period, that’s a great period to go to.
A great period won’t save a film, though, and in the case of FINAL GIRL nothing will. The AB trend has reared its ugly head again, relegating this flick to the Hell of her other recent output. She’s a solid actress, but if only she’d choose her material better. That’d be great for her, and for us.