Monday, September 5, 2016

Final Girl (2015)

Good friend of the GGTMC, Stephen Scarlata, helped with the story of “Final Girl,” alongside Johnny T. Silver & Alejandro Seri. Seeing as how they weren’t credited for the screenplay (that honor goes to Adam Prince), I was unsure of how much of their vision made it to screen. I contacted Stephen and he informed me he pitched the idea of a female “First Blood.” That seeps through a bit in the film’s opening act, but Prince’s script drifts into another direction after.

Just because “Final Girl” isn’t the full-blown female “First Blood” that Stephen pitched doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. On the contrary, it’s a fun slice of genre mayhem once it gets past the clunkier elements. Knowing Stephen didn’t pen the script makes it easier for me to criticize it, mainly the characterizations. Some of the lesser characters speak in clichés and contrivances, which may read better than it’s executed. Prince is indebted to on-the-nose dialogue that cripples the drama at points.

Those lesser characters belong to a gang of spoiled rich children who live out their darkest fantasies by abducting women and hunting them in the woods. The gang is led by Jameson (Alexander Ludwig, who was in the similarly titled “The Final Girls” that same year), an 80s teen villain of the highest order: he’s blonde, pompous, good-looking, charming, and a complete asshole. His partners in crime are Shane (Cameron Bright), a stoic near mute whose girlfriend, Gwen (Francesca Eastwood), knows nothing of his murderous hobby; Nelson (Reece Thompson), more of the same sans a weird incestuous attraction to his mother; and Danny (Logan Huffman), an annoyingly over-the-top horndog who can’t keep his mouth shut if his life depended on it (and it will at one point). The four stalk a local diner and pick up women to take into the woods and hunt for sport.

Hot on their trails is William (Wes Bentley), a secret agent so secretive we don’t know who he works for. What we do know is he’s been training Veronica (Abigail Breslin) ever since she was a child to be a cold-blooded assassin. Her first mission is to go undercover as one of the gang’s victims and pick them off one by one. Think of her as a modern La Femme Nikita, right down to the casting of the youthful-looking Abigail Breslin.

Abigail is quite the beguiling actress. While a full-fledged adult, her appearance is still slightly reminiscent of a young teenager, making her perfect for this role! The character of Veronica needs a sense of youthful innocence to combat her icy demeanor, especially when she is to be charming and captivating (which she is in spades). Her attraction to William is meant to be uneasy and is because of the two actors’ performances, not because of the on-the-nose dialogue.

The only real issue I had with Veronica is in her characterization and not Breslin’s rather strong performance. She is set up from the start to be devoid of emotion, having been trained to be an emotionless killer from adolescence. And yet, she is shown to be a compassionate soul who struggles to shoot William on command. By this point, she has been trained for a decade, yet still shows signs of a novice (too much compassion, rusty fighting skills, etc.). Of course, once she’s dropped into her first mission, she’s a certifiable killing machine who only slips up on occasion.

Both Prince’s script and Tyler Shields’ direction suffer from a wonky first act. The setup is flimsy because both men seemingly want to get to the core of the story as quickly as possible. Character and world building comes across as a necessary evil for them. Shields is able to direct his actors with precision, which helps in alleviating some of the weaker mechanics.

Once the core of the story, the hunting of the rich snob murderers, takes center stage, the film runs smoothly. The gang’s pre-hunt ritual, an unsettling variation on Truth or Dare, goes a long way in defining their characters (albeit forcibly so) and setting the mood. Veronica plays a terrific damsel in distress to feed into the gang’s desires, only to turn the tables on them almost immediately. The inclusion of a serum that shows one’s darkest fears seems corny at first, but is quite effective in execution.

The real meat of the hunt is in the showdown between Veronica and Jameson. Breslin and Ludwig work off of each other tremendously, with his cocky attitude and her confident demeanor gelling well. While the other members of the gang play their roles too cheesily and over-the-top, Alexander finds the happy medium between obnoxiousness and contempt. We wanted the others to get their comeuppance solely to extinguish their annoyance. With Jameson, we want to see him get his comeuppance because he deserves it. Breslin plays the perfect foil to his madness.

“Final Girl” may be rough around the edges, but once it finds its footing, it’s a solid little thriller bolstered by strong performances!

MVT: Both Abigail Breslin & Alexander Ludwig. The two complement each other well and make the final showdown, what the film was building towards, satisfying.

Make or Break: The Truth or Dare game. Sets the mood for things to come, easing us into the hunt. Also acts as a turning point for the film, from shaky introduction to sturdy exploitation.

Final Score: 7/10

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