After her mother’s death, Max has difficulty re-adjusting to life without her. As she grieves, she’s invited to a screening of 80s slasher Camp Bloodbath in which her mother starred. Against what might be her better judgment, she decides to go with her friends. Once there, an incident pushes the group into the film itself, Last Action Hero style, where they face off with its masked baddie Billy Murphy and try to save themselves, the cast, and Max’s mother.
The story by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, two fairly new writers who usually work together, is a good mix of horror and humor and it nails the homage to 80s slashers such as the Friday the 13th series, Sleepaway Camp, and others. The characters in the movie within the movie are exaggerated but in this case it’s not something that feels out of place. The characters in the fake movie need to be a bit of a pastiche of 80s slashers and those certainly did have such characters or poorly written characters, the latter of which is not the case here. In comparison, the characters that leave the “real world” to enter the film Camp Bloodbath feel more real and are thus less ridiculous and easy to keep separated from the other group. The dialogue created here is also different from the teens in current day Los Angeles to the 80s caricatures. This could easily have become an annoying set up, but it works oddly well here. The characters feel like they belong in their original environment.
Director Todd Strauss-Schulson who has done comedy many times before but not horror does well with the story and the story within the story giving Camp Bloodbath its own separate atmosphere from the parts that bookend it and he shows a sense of timing for both comedy and horror gags. The film may not be particularly gory but many characters find their deaths at the hands of Billy Murphy. The main part of the story happens in this faux film which is a bit over the top but is still entertaining. What grabs the viewer here are the more subdued scenes between Max and her mom/her mom’s character which show that he can direct in any style needed here. Comedy and horror are more in your face, but these scenes require more nuance and delicacy and the director does this well.
The cast here is separated in two groups that eventually merge the Camp Bloodbath people and the visitors. The stand-outs are Taissa Farmiga as Max and Malin Akerman in the dual part of Max’s mom Amanda and Nancy in Camp Bloodbath. Both turn in touching performances as a daughter mourning her mother and eventually learning to move on and let go, the other as the mother and then as a character representing the mother who wants so badly for the daughter to accept her as she is and to help her let go. Subject matter such as this is often take too lightly or exaggerated to the point where the viewer disconnects from the characters. The other actors almost all do decently with the parts they were given, some like Adam Devine are funnier than others. Devine as Kurt gets the more over-the-top part of the Camp Bloodbath cast, having some completely ridiculously 80s lines that he delivers with aplomb and great comedic timing.
As all good, and not so good, slashers should, Camp Bloodbath has a masked killer. His design might not be the most creative or fear-inducing but it does the job. Being a cheesy movie inside of a movie, it needed to not be the best but be recognizable to make the faux film a believable cult classic. That being said, this cult classic is nowhere near supposed to be good. So it’s made to be exaggerated and not quite well done, which is achieved well, if that makes sense. The rest of The Final Girls, the scenes not “original” to Camp Bloodbath are well done and crafted with a love for the genre that shows throughout the film.
Wrapping all the 80s goodness up is the soundtrack with some totally tubular tunes from the 80s, however, it is not clear which year the faux film is supposed to be from, the songs used add a definitive vibe to the proceeding. They are mainly light hearted and fun, but also sometimes touching like the use of Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes. This one of those soundtrack ready for a 80s party, whether this was intentional or not as all the songs are recognizable hits.
Through all of this, through the faux slasher, the winks at 80s horror fans, the knowing nudges, the film manages to give off a true 80s cinema vibe through the costumes, décor, and language which were all carefully selected. It’s also more than an homage to 80s horror cinema, it’s a film about loss, the loss of a parent, growing up, and learning to let go while still keeping alive the memory of a loved one no longer with us. This extra layer of content makes this one more than another parody or rip off of a past decade.