The Final Girls is a sweet, inventive spin on the summer camp slasher. The self-aware horror movie isn't a new formula; Scream, Cabin in the Woods, and to a lesser extent Tucker and Dale vs. Evil have done it before, and done it better. What The Final Girls lacks in bite (a soft PG-13 rating means less carnage and slaughter than the usual slasher flick), it makes up for in surprisingly genuine sentiment and a moving rapport between Max and Nancy (Malin Akerman), the Camp Bloodbath girl played by her dead mother. In fact, almost all of the characters are likable, which isn't always the case in these horror movies that strangely seem to play on moral grounds while decapitating left and right (Cherry Falls is the lone exception that comes to this reviewer's mind). This is helped by a capable cast that combines both campy humor and believable emotion. It's actually a diverse cast mostly appropriately experienced in either horror or comedy television acting - Nina Dobrev (Vampire Diaries), Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story), Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley). The talent of the actors elevates the script and keeps the B-movie parody from becoming a B-movie itself.
For a difficult-to-explain-succinctly-to-friends premise, The Final Girls is composed remarkably well and is solid enough to divert into playful variations on the traditional horror film. While Cabin in the Woods offers plausible explanations as to why horror movie victims act the way they do, The Final Girls combines both the aware and unaware and force them to play by the horror movie rules. Surprisingly, the movie's look and aesthetic suffers from the PG-13 rating. It loses the authenticity of a corn-syrup drenched campy horror movie, and as odd as it sounds, the movie is often consequently rendered flat. Elie Smolkin, a relatively unknown cinematographer, makes up for that with some resplendent colors. There's a gold-touched scene that hearkens to former era horror innocence and the climax is a gorgeous purple-hued duel worthy of Highlander.
Some of the jokes fall flat and some scenes are cringeworthy, but you can't help but feel how close the movie is to its mark. Certain effects look as if they suffer from a low budget, until you realize that these are the exact same problems that 80s horror movies overcame to create their practical effects-wielding gory delights. There's no excuse, which unfortunately means a misstep or overlook on director Todd Strauss-Schulson's part.
Softer and more accessible than Cabin in the Woods, The Final Girls is a pusher of its genre not because of its wit or deconstruction of the genre, but because of its emotional heart. There's less of a loving homage here and more of a relational story, but that's neither a small nor bad thing.