Slasher movie parodies are now a genre of their own. You have Leslie Vernon explaining how power-walking allows a masked killer to most impressively chase down his victims, Tucker and Dale horrified and bewildered by the seeming mass suicide of a bunch of college kids, Bradley Whitford orchestrating a topless scene for the gratification of the Great Old Ones. I like all of these, more or less, but none of them have the heart of The Final Girls.
Or, for that matter, the sheer panache required to pull off a genuine tearjerker scene involving a mom doing a striptease for her daughter to “Bette Davis Eyes” in order to lure in a nudity-summoned Jason Voorhees knock-off.
A lot rests on Malin Ackerman’s doubled performance as both “Nancy” and Amanda Cartwright, one-time B-movie scream queen and heroine Max Cartwright’s (Taissa Farmiga) mother: she dies almost immediately in the obligatory Sudden, Tragic Car Accident, but Ackerman’s warmth and charisma in her short scene with Farmiga completely sells both her character and their mother-daughter relationship that underpins the film. When Max finds herself literally transported into Camp Blood, the slasher movie that made her mom dubiously famous, her quest to both reconnect with her mother—heartbreakingly not really there, and present only as Nancy, the movie character she played—is actually affecting.
Cabin in the Woods gets some decent mileage out of pointing out how its characters have been artificially molded into slasher stereotypes, and it’s suitably clever; The Final Girls does the same thing but makes it less of a plot point. Even the most two-dimensional characters here, like Adam DeVine’s incredibly douche Wet Hot American Summer escapee Kurt, can’t really qualify as generic. It’s all popcorn characterization, but it’s effective.
And the gleeful metafiction of it all is hard to resist, whether that’s characters carefully stepping over time-captions or horror-hound Duncan enthusing over the possibility that the movie characters are all really walking around with corn syrup in their veins. It’s fun enough as a delighted, geeky homage, but it works especially well because it takes the additional step of being an actual movie as opposed to just a collection of movie references. (Any implied Ernest Cline dig here is intentional.)