Do you ever think about “what if” situations for movies? Like, Actor A was in the film, but Actor B auditioned for the role, so what would the movie look like if it starred Actor B instead? I like to have fun thinking like that sometimes, usually substituting whatever actor for Nic Cage because that’s just a recipe for hilarity. But sometimes these hypotheticals would lead to a much worse movie, like if New Line Cinema had their way with the horror comedy The Final Girls.
Max (Ms. Taissa Farmiga, a recurring actor in American Horror Story) is mourning the loss of her mother, Amanda (Malin Akerman, AKA Silk Spectre from Watchmen), an actress whose most notable role was Nancy in the slasher classic, Camp Bloodbath. Max begrudgingly goes to a screening of the film with her potential boyfriend Chris (Alexander Ludwig, who was also in 2015’s unrelated film Final Girl), best friend Gertie (Alia Shawkat, AKA Maeby from Arrested Development), Gertie’s nerdy step-brother Duncan (the lovely Thomas Middleditch), and ex-best friend Vicki (Nina Dobrev, who my husband knows as Elena in The Vampire Diaries). A fire breaks out in the theater and the only way our five can escape is cutting into the movie screen, appearing to actually enter the movie. They actually enter the movie, soon realizing that they have to go along with the plot if they want any way to escape and go back home. Problems immediately come up when they encounter Max’s mom as her character Nancy, and things get worse when it’s revealed that since they’re in the film, they’re now potential targets for the masked killer, Billy. Can our protagonists make it out of this horror film unscathed? Nope! Will Max get closure by bonding with character that looks like her dead mother? It’s possible!
The film itself is a fun blend of the bizarre Detention, the classic camp-counselors-getting-killed film Friday the 13th (technically the sequels but still), and some meta knowledge of the horror genre best typified by Scream, but I’m going with Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon for being more tongue in cheek. The main characters are aware they’re in a horror movie and that said movie has certain rules–at one point, they set up a trap for Billy and use counselor Tina taking her top off as bait. Sure enough, as soon as the boobs are set free (off screen as Sony insisted the film be PG-13), Billy immediately shows up. Max’s attempts to save her mother/Nancy largely involve making sure she doesn’t have sex, which is an instant death sentence in slasher movies like these. But then there’s the added fact that they’re in an actual film, a thing that comes up when a flashback happens and the main group find themselves monochromatic in the 1950’s for a brief period.
The family dynamic is baked into the very heart of the movie. To remove Max wanting just a few minutes more with her mother would be detrimental to an unforgivable degree. This is a movie that makes me feel something, which is high praise for a horror comedy where Adam Devine plays a dude with the absolute worst pickup lines imaginable. So when New Line Cinema wanted to remove the mother-daughter plotline, it was a good decision to walk away. I feel like this was an absolute non-starter for co-writer Joshua John Miller, whose late father was Jason Miller, AKA Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist. A dead parent who starred in an iconic horror film? Yeah, that tracks. The film eventually ended up at Sony, so it all worked out.
Plus the writing duo of Miller and MA Fortin are both gay and–as far as I can tell–still in a relationship together, so A+ all around.
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