Director – Tyler Shields, Screenplay – Adam Prince, Story – Steve Scarlata, Alejandro Seri & Johnny T. Silver, Producers – Rob Carliner, Jeff Kwatinetz, Jack Nasser & Joseph Nasser, Photography – Gregory Middleton, Music – Marc Canham, Visual Effects – Encore (Supervisor – Ivan Hayden), Special Effects Supervisor – Tony Lazarowich, Production Design – Tink. Production Company – Nasser Group North/Prospect Park
Abigail Breslin (Veronica), Wes Bentley (William), Alexander Ludwig (Jameson), Cameron Bright (Shane), Logan Huffman (Danny), Reece Thompson (Nelson), Emma Paetz (Jennifer), Gracyn Shinyei (Young Veronica), Francesca Eastwood (Gwen Thomas), Desiree Zurowski (Nelson’s Mom)
William comes to young Veronica, the survivor of an attack, and asks her to come with him. She agrees. Twelve years later and Veronica is a grown woman. William places her through a series of tough survival challenges, training her in the usage of weapons and hand combat to tackle people stronger than her. It is finally decided that it is time to put her skills into use. William chooses a group of four dashingly handsome guys led by Jameson who like to select girls, take them into the woods where they hunt and kill them. As Veronica lets herself be wooed by Jameson into their games in the woods, the guys soon find the tables turned on them.
Final Girl was a directorial debut for Tyler Shields who had previously gained some attention as a photographer, having published three books of material. His body of work makes for interesting viewing where his focus is on the provocative and sensational and outr– juxtapositions. After making his film debut here, Shields is next announced as director of Outlaw (2015).
Before anything else, there is the misnomer that needs to be cleared up. I started out thinking I was watching The Final Girls (2015), the festival-acclaimed homage to/parody of slasher movies that came out four months earlier the same year. It is easy to confuse the two films due to the similarity of titles. Not to mention that the two, in choosing the title they do, seem to give the appearance of explicitly homaging the slasher genre. ‘Final Girl’ was a term coined by film studies professor Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992), referring to the point-of-view character in slasher films – the perfect example being Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween (1978) – who remains virginal/chaste and thus survives until the end. I expected that Final Girl to be a film that would fall into parodying/deconstructing the slasher film akin to something like Scream (1996) or Behind the Mask; The Rise of Lesley Vernon (2006) did. Yet, despite its deployment of Carol J. Clover’s term, it is a very different film to that, although by no means one that does not operate in meta-conscious way and throw genre conventions on their head.
You are immediately captivated with Final Girl from the opening scenes where Wes Bentley comes to talk to a young girl (Gracyn Shinyei) and says she is special because of the (unspecified) trauma she has been through and asks her to come away with him. Next the film leaps forward twelve years where she has grown up into Abigail Breslin and we see her being put through a series of scenes where he does such things as take her out into the wilderness and asks her to try and shoot him with a gun before abandoning her barefoot to walk back, telling her if she is lucky she should make it before dark. This is followed by a training exercise where he encourages her to strangle him to death with her arm around his neck and then a scene where they go to a bar and he gets her to approach a much bigger guy and then knock him out as they go into the bathroom for sex. All of this comes with much in the way of Wes Bentley imparting harsh survival wisdom that makes you sit up and think. Not to mention wondering exactly what is going on.
This is a film that could easily sit inside both the vigilante and the psycho killer genres but is so fascinatingly original that it defies all genre conventions of such and could easily be said to be an entirely original beast. The writing in the film is excellent – the dialogue exchanges come with a cool, charged intensity where each seems to exist with multiple meaning and intent lurking beneath the surface. Peculiarly, the design scheme Tyler Shields chooses seems to homage the 1950s – one of the principal settings is a diner where people still order milkshakes, where the costumes have a retro feel and the soundtrack is rock-n’roll.
One of the standout aspects of the film is the performance from Alexander Ludwig, previously a child actor in films like The Seeker: The Dark is Rising (2007) and Race to Witch Mountain (2009), who has suddenly become all grown-up when you weren’t looking. (To further add to confusion, Ludwig also plays one of the leading male roles in The Final Girls, although his role there was 180 degrees remove where he was a nice guy and the would-be boyfriend of the heroine). He comes across as wonderfully polished and cold, entirely assured of his own handsomeness and happy to use it. The games that go on between he and Abigail Breslin when she allows him to ask her out on a date and then the game of Truth or Dare they play in the forest hold some wonderfully taunting tensions that all take place beneath the surface of the dialogue.
Tyler Shields next went on to make the revenge film Outlaw (2016).
(Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Alexander Ludwig) at this site’s Best of 2015 Awards).