Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Last Girl Standing: What it Means to be the Final “Girl”

You’d think the “men’s rights” movement would be more up-in-arms over horror movies. Granted, survival rates are low for everyone, but they are practically nil for dudes. Camryn is a case in point. She was the sole survivor of the so-called “Campfire Murders,” committed by a psychopath dubbed “The Hunter.” Five years later, she is still a basket case in Benjamin R. Moody’s Last Girl Standing (trailer here), which releases today on DVD in multiple territories, including the U.S. (from MPI) and the UK (from Icon).

Camryn survived, but she has not gotten on with her life. She works a dead-end wash-and-fold laundry job during the day and sequesters herself in her apartment at night. Despite her standoffishness, Nick, the new register guy, obviously kind of likes her. She also trusts him enough to seek refuge with him and his houseful of hipster roommates after an incident with an intruder. Frankly, Nick seems like he could be a candidate to be the final boy, but that probably isn’t going to happen.

However, Camryn’s worst fears might finally be coming true when she starts to suspect the Hunter is stalking her from beyond the grave. She was meant to be the final victim in his macabre Pagan-Wiccan-Occult blood sacrifice ritual. Now, she is worried he will start over again with Nick and his friends.

LGS is one of several recent genre films to deconstruct the “final girl” tradition, including Todd Strauss-Schulson’s best-of-the-bunch The Final Girls and the similarly titled The Final Girl (shouldn’t that be “final women?”). Moody takes a radically different tack, emphasizing the psychological and emotionally scars resulting from a horrific trauma. As a result, horror fans might lose patience with its slow burn. It will eventually get down to horror movie business, but in ways that will numb rather than thrill genre fans.

Still, it all works rather well on a dramatic level thanks to the cast (who have to do more legit acting than most slasher ensembles). Akasha Banks Villalobos’s lead performance is tremendously vulnerable and ferociously raw. It is up there with Alex Essoe’s work in Starry Eyes and Isabel Adjani’s subway freak-out in Possession. Brian Villalobos also plays Nick with the right mix of guilelessness and a vaguely ambiguous sense of potential danger. Chad Warren (who looks more familiar than his imdb credits would suggest) adds memorable real world grounding as David, the laundromat owner.

LGS is definitely more of a character study than a slasher movie. It also seems to be one of those horror movies that hates horror movies. Inevitably, that sort of inner conflict leads to the cinematic equivalent of a personality disorder, but it is rather fascinating to watch Moody’s screenplay turn on itself. For horror fans, it is more of thematically interesting film rather than a fully emotionally satisfying one. Recommended genre fans receptive to its critiques, Last Girl Standing releases today on VOD and DVD, from MPI Home Video.