Pop photographer Tyler Shields’ highly-anticipated first foray into feature films boasts a title that will immediately pique the interest of even the most casual genre fans. Final Girl is brought to life from a script credited to four different, mostly first-time, writers, and stars Abigail Breslin and Wes Bentley in the lead roles. On paper, it’s a weird prospect. And the end result is a bit of a mixed bag, albeit a beautiful one to look at (much like his photos).
The premise concerns Breslin’s Final Girl Veronica who is trained, for most of her life, by Bentley’s William to be a lethal weapon of sorts. Once teenaged and fully-equipped, she is then tasked with taking down a group of well-dressed homicidal maniacs who, for some unknown reason, tend to target blonde girls. After luring one of them into a date night scenario using the old blonde hair, red lips combo, Veronica plays them at their own game, leading to less carnage than that scenario would suggest.
Final Girl is visually striking, which is to be expected of a photographer with a good eye such as Shields’. The universe of the film utilises a trippy, surrealist landscape bathed in dark hues, where primary colours pop and the everything looks like it’s outlined–similar to Sin City, except the design sucks you into the narrative, instead of pulling you out of it. Having said that, the weird, timeless (it looks like the fifties, but the timeframe is never explicitly identified) feel of it is slightly disconcerting.
Earlier this year, It Follows did a great job of setting itself outside of a specific time period, which added to the mystery of the piece. Final Girl attempts to do the same thing but is so obsessed with everything looking a certain way, it neglects to make us feel anything. Veronica’s trajectory is utterly predictable, making it difficult to care about her plight, while Bentley dips in and out of the frame to brood or offer some helpful advice but doesn’t really get anything real to sink his teeth into.
This is an incredibly stylish film, right off the bat, with more than a couple of could-be-iconic images–a guy dancing with an axe is particularly memorable–but there isn’t much beneath the surface. Shot and presented like a high-concept music video, the enchanted forest in which most of the action takes place never once feels real. However, given Shields’ artistic vision, perhaps this was intentional. The diner that forms another major set-piece gives a feeling of Anywhere, USA instead of just looking like a set.
For all its ties to genre pictures, the thing isn’t exactly what one would term a horror movie either. It’s a bit like a female version of John Wick, only deadly serious and with much less carnage. Although the performances vary hugely, most of the actors are subdued with Bentley delivering most lines with a deadpan stare, especially when his charge throws herself at him. The four lads whom she’s tasked with tackling, however, are a rich blend of overacting and enjoyable hamminess. One, in particular, really seems to think the death of Sammy Davis left an opening in The Rat Pack.
The strongest sequence, which involves a high-stakes game of Truth Or Dare that gets gradually darker as time wears on (the final Dare reads simply “DIE”), isn’t given quite enough time within the greater narrative to really make the idea pop. Far too long is spent on training sequences, with Veronica slowly but surely learning to be harder, better, faster, stronger. The point could’ve been made with one sequence, let alone six, especially as it’s an idea with which we’re already pretty familiar.
Final Girl is definitely style over substance, but as a first effort, it’s quite impressive–at least, visually. Shields has a good eye, and he sets up scenes like photo-shoots, drawing our eye to the corners of the frame. Every tiny detail of the shot has been considered which, obviously, has a slightly adverse effect on the script and performances but, watched purely for the visuals, the movie is pretty striking. Breslin and Bentley have a nice chemistry and it ticks along nicely, but it’s not exactly memorable.
Final Girl is more interesting in concept than it is a fully fleshed out idea. It’s gorgeous to look at and Breslin is a strong lead, but it’s doubtful this picture is going to be remembered as one of the greats of the genre, let alone the year. You could do a lot worse, but it’s not exactly a talking point either.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Tyler Shields
Writer(s): Adam Prince, Stephen Scarlata, Alejandro Seri, Johnny Silver
Stars: Abigail Breslin, Wes Bentley, Alexander Ludwig, Logan Huffman
Studio/ Production Co: NGN Productions
Length: 90 minutes