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Dustin Putman

Final Girl  (2015)
2 Stars
Directed by Tyler Shields.
Cast: Abigail Breslin, Alexander Ludwig, Wes Bentley, Cameron Bright, Logan Huffman, Reece Thompson, Emma Paetz, Gracyn Shinyei, Francesca Eastwood.
2015 – 84 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for disturbing violent content and for language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, August 13, 2015.
The title, "Final Girl," suggests a story that will comment upon one of the longstanding narrative tropes of slasher-movie cinema—that the last survivor left to face off against the madman/alien/creature/ghost will inevitably be female. In the loosest sense, the film proper kind of does this, but in an unsurprising, rather plodding way that offers little to no surprises or insight into this genre convention. Indeed, 2013's deliciously unnerving, Adam Wingard-directed "You're Next" could have been rechristened with this moniker and much more savvily lived up to the concept of a final girl. In contrast, the noticeably underdeveloped "Final Girl" goes through the motions while introducing a bevy of central plot points that never lead to a payoff. Whatever substance the film has can be almost strictly attributed to Abigail Breslin (2015's "Maggie"), humanizing a character who gets no help from screenwriter Adam Prince.

Twelve years ago, orphan Veronica (Abigail Breslin) was taken under the wing of William (Wes Bentley), a man thirsty for vengeance following the murders of his wife and daughter. Meticulously trained to be her own greatest weapon, a teenage Veronica is finally prepped for her mission. Luring 17-year-old serial killers Jameson (Alexander Ludwig), Shane (Cameron Bright), Danny (Logan Huffman) and Nelson (Reece Thompson) into a situation where she appears to be most vulnerable, Veronica plans to turn her hunters into the hunted with cold, undaunted efficiency.

The premise of "Final Girl" sounds barebones because it is, and any potential exploration into the pasts and psyches of its characters is left frustratingly vague. What do these handsome, underage, bloodthirsty sociopaths have to do with William's ill-fated family from over a decade ago? How does he know about the twenty women they have thus far slayed? What do he and Veronica plan to do with their lives after this assignment is done? The film props up the various pieces of the story and then does nothing with them. It is not a surprise, however, that Tyler Shields (making his directorial debut) is a professional photographer; he and cinematographer Gregory Middleton (2006's "Slither") light the heck out of their locations, most notably once the action segues to the lonesome, bitterly cold nighttime forest where the jocks plan to make Veronica victim #21.

As Veronica, Abigail Breslin is consistently arresting, finding vulnerability within a girl who can take care of herself without batting an eyelash. Unfortunately, her power over her assailants is undermined by a series of hallucinations the guys experience after taking a drink from Veronica's roofied flask. As their comeuppances at the capable hands of Veronica are transformed into mirages involving giant pandas and shady figures in black masks, the film's abstract qualities put a distance between the viewer and the grisly circumstances at hand. Even more disappointingly, it shifts the focus from Veronica, turning her personal journey into a gimmick-laden piffle that isn't willing to delve beneath any of its surfaces—as a horror picture, as a revenge tale, or as a character drama about a young woman who has been victimized in a very different way, stripped of a life with meaningful human relationships and manipulated by a selfish man into doing his bidding. One yearns for Veronica to break free and befriend the unsuspecting Jennifer (Emma Paetz), whom she meets early on at a roadside diner and chats with over vanilla milkshakes. Alas, "Final Girl" isn't interested in its title character beyond that of a pawn. Breslin does everything a really strong actor possibly could with this slimly conceived role, but she deserves better.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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