Final Girl

Final Girlfinalgirl
Released: 2015
Director: Tyler Shields

The concept of the final girl is an absolute classic of the horror genre – the last woman standing, the one who overcomes adversity, defeats the monster/killer, and lives happily ever after. Usually these are everyday women, who win through a combination of ingenuity and sheer luck – but what if a final girl was instead cultivated, specifically tailored to this purpose? What kind of character would that create?

Therein lies part of the concept of the film Final Girl. Veronica is a young girl that is orphaned at a young age, and then taken under the wing of her mentor, William. She trains for years into a lethal and formidable assassin, and by the time she’s reached an optimal level of training, William has a mission for her – and targets that have caused the demise of many girls before her.

Final Girl is, ultimately, a failed attempt at a female empowerment film. You can certainly see all the pieces there, and how they’re meant to present women as strong and capable, and to admonish the men who hurt them, but it just fails to connect in any way. To understand why it fails, however, one must consider a few things: the director is male; the writers are all male; the leading cast is overwhelmingly male. This is a film with the conceit of empowering women, but managed to consult the opinion of zero women in the process. It shows.

Veronica herself is a Strong Female Character, in the worst way of defining that type of character – that is, mostly an empty shell, on which strong traits are imprinted. She’s physically strong, unemotional (even as a very young child), and not squeamish about the violence she sees or commits. Beyond that, she lacks any and all emotional depth that one would reasonably expect from the protagonist of a story, let alone a revenge tale. The mission she is put on has no connections to her, giving her no sense of motivation other than pleasing her male mentor. Even the death of her parents has zero emotional impact, and this detail only serves to further sever her from caring about anything other than William and his wishes for her to serve out vengeance on his terms.

That said, the relationship between William and Veronica has its own slew of issues, and that is hugely problematic as he is the only character she gets to have any substantial, positive interaction with. The relationship begins as paternal, as one might assume, and William is hugely influential on Veronica’s choices. He raised her into what she is, after all. She embarks on her mission to give William some sense of closure on the murder of his wife – a woman about whom no morsel of information is given other than her status of “not alive”; thus not even allowing sympathy for the female victim to be a motivating factor in the vengeance. Only William, and his feelings about the murder of women, are relevant, not actually the women themselves. And finally, despite the paternal leanings of Veronica and William’s relationship, the film inevitably ends with a heavily suggestive scene of Veronica licking whipped cream off of her finger with a wink and a nod to the audience as to what comes next. It wouldn’t be a happy ending unless the nubile and hyper capable teenage girl throws herself at the male mentor. Because of course she does.

There is almost no aspect of the film that is not sexualized. This is no clearer than when Veronica approaches one of her targets’ girlfriends in a diner, in order to get information. This conversation feels sexually charged, and for a moment I allowed myself the naive hope that the story would conclude with both women becoming disillusioned with being the pawns of the men around them and running off together. No such luck. As it turns out, the men who wrote this film simply don’t have a clue how to write dialogue for women without sexual subtext. The two characters never see each other again, thus erasing the potential to show a relationship of any kind between two women, romantic or otherwise.

Many parts of this film seem like they’re intentional self-parody, which might have been a better route to take for the entire film. The over acting makes every single person a caricature, but the revenge plot has a sincerity to it that creates a bizarre contrast. And if the plot was intended as parody as well, it becomes even worse, because then violence towards women is just the set up to a terrible punchline. Sure, the men in this are violent buffoons, clearly caught between adolescent delinquency and true sociopathy, but the women unfortunate enough to encounter them are dead all the same.

Not everything about this film is bad, however. For all of its flaws (and there are many), it manages to be relatively entertaining. The final showdown between Veronica and the murderous school boys is engaging to watch, with enough twists to keep you interested, and enough violence to make you cringe once in a while. And the final fate for the ringleader of the group? Watching Jameson’s final moments play out might be one of the most satisfying things the entire film has to offer, and one of the few shining moments of real sincerity when it comes to the treatment of women in the film.

Final Girl is a film about female empowerment that fails to empower anyone except the men who created it. It’s easy to imagine them congratulating themselves on a job well done, that they created a women who is strong and capable, and then made her an avenger of abused and murdered women. On paper, this could be a feminist concept, but it flounders in the execution and becomes muddled. And worst of all, it removes what makes the concept of the final girl so powerful: the strength and ingenuity in ordinary women. This film gives us a superficial version of this, one created by men, and she is not the final girl that we deserve.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5. Uncomfortable, but watchable at certain points, as long as you know what you’re getting into.

Scariness level: Pretty low. There’s never any real fear that Veronica won’t come out victorious, though I was nervous about the fate of one or two other characters.

Violence level: Most of the kills include a discretion shot, so you’re not going to be treated to too much on the gore scale. That said, the fights between Veronica and the boys are pretty prolonged, and at times relatively bloody, so the violence is significant.

Bechdel Test: Unfortunately not. The conversation mentioned earlier almost entirely revolves around the sociopathic boyfriend. With some weird flirting about milkshakes thrown in there, which I suppose we could count if you really wanted to stretch it.

Mako Mori test: No. There’s not a single time in this film where you feel you really get a sense of what Veronica herself wants, other than to apparently sleep with William. Her entire plot is created by him; she as a character is basically created by him.

Posted on May 24, 2016, in Films and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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