SPOILERS WITHIN SPOILERS OF SPOILERS
Doing self-referential horror comedy is phenomenally difficult: it's the knowing wink and the raised eyebrow at the same time. Unless you know exactly what you're doing you're going to look like a prize chump, and you'd better be Wes Craven's Scream or don't even bother getting out of bed. It's so easy to slip into MST3K wisecrackery, especially when you're dealing with the low end of the summer camp slasher: a horror subset not noted for innovation and profundity, and it's unwise to deconstruct the house while you're standing in it. Happily, sometimes they manage it. Somehow they pull off the spoof without the cheap laughs, nod at the genre tropes while simultaneously indulging them, laugh with them rather than at them.
The Final Girls should really be the last word in post-modern self-referential irony for Friday The 13th fans: a witty, clever, well-observed slasher movie about slasher movies which ends up as The Burning via Last Action Hero. A year after the tragic death of faded actress Amanda Cartwright (Malin Akerman), her daughter Max (Taissa Farmiga) reluctantly attends a special screening of her last film, terrible cult slasher Camp Bloodbath. Through a sequence that's straight out of a Final Destination movie, the cinema catches fire and Max and her friends magically go through the screen, finding themselves trapped inside Camp Bloodbath where they are just as likely as the film's characters to end up as victims of the film's masked maniac. They end up pretending to be summer camp counsellors and trying to convince everyone that they're just figments of a screenwriter's imagination in a bad horror movie; meanwhile Max has a last chance to connect with her mother via the character she's playing - a character who isn't Camp Bloodbath's Final Girl....
It's got the of-their-time archetypes down: the tiresomely sexist hunk and bimbo simpleton both clearly due for an early bath unless our heroes can rewrite the movie in which they're trapped. It's got the 80s synth soundtrack (complete with a ki-ki-ki vocal straight out of Friday The 13th) and the photographic look of old 80s exploitationers: there's a lot of attention to detail that's gone into The Final Girls (even down to the typeface of Camp Bloodbath's end credits as they rise into the sky) and it's time and effort well spent. It's a pity the CGI for the opening car crash isn't very good, and I got slightly lost on the film's timeline: if Camp Bloodbath is supposed to be a 20-year-old film then that actually makes it a mid-90s slasher and the genre was well on the wane at that point; by then you weren't talking The Burning and Madman and The Final Terror (Campsite Massacre); and you certainly weren't talking Friday The 13th any more, as that had all but stopped with Jason Goes To Hell.
Still, whatever. The best thing about The Final Girls is that it's done with love and affection for its sources: Cheerleader Camp and Nightmare Vacation (Sleepaway Camp) sequels as much as vintage Voorhees. It doesn't do snark, it doesn't do contempt, it acknowledges the cliches and silliness without adding "am I right, guys?". One thinks, despairingly, of films like Hack! that are merely content to namecheck major films and directors ("Professor Argento"); but one also thinks of films like Popcorn and Midnight Movie which at least attempt something better. Of that hall-of-mirrors kind of horror movie about horror movies, The Final Girls is definitely one of the best: great fun, nicely written (though the out-takes over the end credits suggest a lot of improvisation went on) and perfectly constructed without gaping holes in the logic. Absolutely worth seeking out.