(US - 2015)
This meta slasher film sendup gets rolling with a surprisingly clever premise before bogging down and occasionally becoming a little too pleased with itself and displaying a sense of cult movie entitlement. As the film opens, Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga) and her mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) are in a car accident in which only Max survives. Amanda was a struggling actress still trying to catch a big break but can't with the albatross that is CAMP BLOODBATH, a classic summer camp slasher movie from 1986 in which she played a victim. Three years after the car crash, movie nerd Duncan (Thomas Middleditch) invites Max to be the guest speaker at a screening of CAMP BLOODBATH and its 1987 sequel CAMP BLOODBATH 2: CRUEL SUMMER. A fire breaks out in the theater and with the exits engulfed in flames, Duncan, Amanda, her best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat), her former best friend Vicki (Nina Dobrev), and sensitive jock Chris (Alexander Ludwig) try to escape by cutting through the screen. Once they're on the other side, they find that they're in CAMP BLOODBATH, with the film's camp counselors passing them in a van every 92 minutes, the precise length of the film. It's here that Max encounters her mother, playing a counselor named Nancy, and they're all pursued by the film's hulking, Jason-like killer Billy (Daniel Norris). The presence of Amanda and the others sets off a new chain of events within the film, one that Billy and the camp counselor victims must adjust to, and in the course of altering the outcome of the film, inadvertently cause the death CAMP BLOODBATH's virginal "final girl" Paula (Chloe Bridges), the only one able to kill Billy within the definitions and tropes of the slasher genre. The visitors must work together with the actors in the film to take on Billy, while Max takes advantage of the opportunity to spend more time with her mother, even if she exists as a character named Nancy.
Funny without being too spoofy, THE FINAL GIRLS is like a slasher film take on THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, with the meta aspects of everything from SCREAM to WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE to even the cult film POPCORN. After an inspired set-up, things slow down and grow repetitive as the filmmakers belabor the point, and isn't as consistently clever as it thinks it is. Still, there's a lot of affection in the script by M.A. Forton and Joshua John Miller (son of EXORCIST star Jason Miller, and best known for his days as a child actor in RIVER'S EDGE and as the vampire Homer in NEAR DARK), with nods to tons of slasher films (even a reference to the waterbed line from PIECES!), and any film that opens with an homage to the old-school Vestron Video logo obviously has its heart in the right place. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS) does a nice job staging inventive kills, but the more the film goes on, the more forced the winking and nudging becomes. THE FINAL GIRLS opens and closes strong but doesn't quite have everything it needs to be crowned the next cult classic. (PG-13, 91 mins)
(South Africa/UK - 2015)
WE ARE STILL HERE
(US - 2015)
Though it's never specified and Geoghegan's use of period detail is subtle, we can assume the film is taking place in 1979, but to his credit, he never gets kitschy or winking about it. It's a slow-burning and very character-driven film that could've been made in 1981 and takes its time getting into the routine of Anne and Paul, giving you time to know them and feel their loss. WE ARE STILL HERE doesn't go for loud jump scares and is one of those films that has you looking all over the frame, waiting for something to materialize. Geoghegan's demonstrations of genre affection never distract from the story, though unlike the Fulci films he obviously holds near and dear, he feels the need to explain everything. The film's one stumble is an initially scary sequence that turns silly when Dagmar possesses one of the characters and instantly turns him into a demonic Basil Exposition, grunting reams of backstory explaining why he still haunts the house and why the locals must pay. It regains its footing quickly, and the finale is quite unexpectedly emotional. All in all, WE ARE STILL HERE with its effective scares and chilly, dread-soaked atmosphere, is one of the rare horror films of recent years that deserves its fawning fanboy accolades, especially with its unusual decision to appeal to grownups by focusing on people in their 50s as well as providing 80-year-old veteran character actor Markham with his meatiest role in years. WE ARE STILL HERE is the kind of well-done retro-shocker that Ti West fans think Ti West makes. (Unrated, 83 mins)