"The Final Girls" Makes For Feeble Horror Satire

Horror-comedy “The Final Girls” fancies itself the Jason Voorhees of slasher satires, machete at the ready, ruthlessly slicing and dicing its targets into neat portions. In reality, it’s Michael Myers circa “Halloween II” climax: burned, blinded, and flailing about with a scalpel.

Todd Strauss-Schulson’s film is mostly a straight homage to the legion of “Friday The 13th” sequels, with a few tweaks. Tessa Farmiga (Vera Farmiga’s youngest sibling) stars as Max, a teenager whose late mother Nancy (Malin Akerman) co-starred in a hit 1980s slasher movie (affectionately titled “Camp Bloodbath”). Max reluctantly attends a screening of the film in tribute to her mother, only to be sucked into the screen, friends in tow.

What follows is a labored hybrid of “The Wizard Of Oz,” “Back To The Future,” and “Last Action Hero,” failing to erect an intelligible set of rules or effectively lampoon the genre. Even the reviled “Jason X” did a better job of sending up its subject matter.

Considering a cast stacked with funny people – Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”), Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”), Adam DeVine (“Workaholics”) – laughs are distressingly hard to come by. Seeing “real” kids co-exist with movie characters is an interesting wrinkle, but the movie never finds the situational comedy, resorting to tired physical gags time and time again.

Worse yet, the movie is never, ever scary, with its villain – essentially Jason Voorhees in a Tiki mask – having almost no bearing on the “teens stuck inside a movie” conceit and eventually succumbing not to his prey, but to the movie’s restrictive MPAA rating.

In fact, the only interesting thing it does with its self-reflexive premise is Max’s arc of grief and, ultimately, closure. Screwy timeline aside (Akerman looks the same as both 80s scream queen and 00s mom), mother and daughter share a number of genuinely sweet moments, particularly at the pic’s climax. Their shared love of 1981 pop hit “Bette Davis Eyes” makes for one of the picture’s best scenes, wielding the song as both emotional catharsis and battle cry.

But even so, their story never quite makes sense, with the movie making clear that Max isn’t actually spending time with her mother – just her mother’s character. This makes things less satisfying than they might have been, or at the very least, midly confusing.

There is some nice cinematography to match the few sincerely heartrending moments, but cut-rate CGI, shaky performances, and a frequently unintelligible screenplay sink the ship, leaving it squarely in the “late night Netflix fodder” camp. “Scream” – the granddaddy of horror satire – “The Final Girls” isn’t. Truly, it’s not even “Scream 4.”

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: October 9, 2015 (Limited; On Demand)
Studio: Stage 6 Films & Vertical Entertainment
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Screenwriter: Joshua John Miller, M.A. Fortin
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for horror violence, some crude and sexual material, language and drug use)