Somewhere between “Scream” and “Wet Hot American Summer,” we find “Final Girls,” an offbeat movie about horror movies. Taissa Farmiga (“The Bling Ring”) plays Max, a high school student floundering after the death of her mom, a B-list scream queen played by Malin Ackerman (“Watchmen”). She’s coerced into a screening of her mom’s most famous movie, “Camp Bloodbath,” when a freak accident theater fire (because those happen apparently) causes Max and her friends to escape through the screen and into the world of the movie, a campy teen slasher with a Michael Myers-type villain.
It doesn’t take long for the resident horror movie nerd to make himself known and dish out some serious survival strategies. Per usual, a girl’s protective armor is her virginity. Interestingly enough, there doesn’t seem to be a good way to survive if you’re a boy. Adam Devine’s (“Pitch Perfect”) anachronistic jock character is killed unceremoniously and the movie nerd himself (Thomas Middleditch “Silicon Valley”) is killed twice. Unlike “Scream,” “Final Girls” follows the rules it’s critiquing. Max decides to keep Nancy (her mom’s character) alive by keeping her chaste. If Max and her friends can survive by making it to the final credits (granted it is unclear how they came to that realization), so can Nancy, right? But this attempt is made futile by the fact that Nancy is also “the shy girl with the clipboard and the guitar,” a new rule seemingly created only to validate the deaths of virgin characters. Not only do you have to be a virgin to survive “Camp Bloodbath,” but you also have to be the “right” kind of virgin.
“Camp Bloodbath” looks like someone put an Instagram filter on a low-budget remake of “Halloween.” Everything is cast in a golden light that screams nostalgia, and the final fight scene is a grand machete battle set against purple fog and pink lightning. It’s as visually striking as it is over-the-top. The exaggerated palate sets the world of “Camp Bloodbath” outside the bounds of reality, and it therefore allows the plot to bend in unrealistic ways.
The title “Final Girls” is a little misleading — Max is the only girl who actually gets to survive until the end. And while all of the real-world girls come back to life in time for the sequel, Max is the only one privileged with the final battle, a fact that is disappointing for anyone expecting a badass five-on-one takedown of the creepy masked killer.
Amid all the sex and gore, “Final Girls” manages to find some poignancy in the relationship between Max and Nancy. Following a gory run in with Billy, the masked killer, Max and Nancy share a moment where Nancy is allowed to voice the fears of her off-screen counterpart — not being a part of her daughter’s life. The scene is clunky and a little confusing (no one in their right mind empties their heart out next to a half-dead maniac with a machete), but it establishes the film as something more than just a 21st century “Scream.”
Despite some plotholes and inconsistencies, “Final Girls” is a charming, poignant satire of teen slasher movies.