This is a review of first time Director, Tyler Shields film “Final Girl”, which comes out on DVD and Blu Ray this September. Final Girl is an Action/Thriller film in the vein of “Hannah” and “Eden Lake”. A man (played by Wes Bentley), has spent over a decade teaching Veronica (Abigail Breslin), a young orphaned girl how to become a killing machine. When she turns 18, she will be given the task of a hunting and killing a group of Sadistic young men. Led by the charismatic and confident Chris (Alexander Ludwig), the foursome hunt and kill blondes for sport, it’s up to Veronica to teach these boys a lesson. The film also stars Logan Huffman from TV’s “V”, Cameron Bright (The Butterfly Effect), Reece Thompson and Emma Paetz.
Much to my surprise, Shields lack of experience hasn’t clouded his vision when it came to casting the right people for the job. Abigail Breslin is such a young talent. Most of us have watched her on the big screen for well over a decade, it should come as no surprise that in her age bracket, she’s one of Hollywood’s best. Wes Bentley is a wonderful character actor and has managed to give life to some rather, one-dimensional characters over the years. Both the “Man” and Veronica share a certain bond, they’ve spent so much time with each other that it’s almost become like a father/daughter unspoken love. The scenes they share are bold and honest. When you have a contrast of the familiar safety and comfort she feels during training, to her interactions and experience with our psychotic group of 4, it makes for an intriguing struggle.
All the acting is top-notch and the dynamic between these four young socialites Chris, Danny, Shane and Nelson, confronts us with a multitude of emotions throughout the film. The surprise packet for me was Huffman, who plays Danny. He’s incredibly jovial, laughs like a hyena and loves his Dion and the Belmont’s style, Rockabilly 50’s blues music, and oh yeah he wields an axe too. Clearly channeling a bit of Patrick Bateman (American Psycho character), Logan’s zany performance elevates him in standing out from the bunch. Saying that, the other three characters are slightly more developed and the actors play them well too. The casting choices and performances are only half the battle in a film, it never truly pays off unless you have a well written script. Final Girl has three very clear acts, the first of which makes for a wonderful setup for events to come. There’s a tough balancing act when it comes to introducing and building your characters sufficiently, but not stalling or failing to keep the viewer interested enough to care about what’s happening. These writers built a foundation early, and then moved straight onto the “mouse trap” aspect of the film. The end delivers the most practical of outcomes, without becoming run of the mill, or predictable. If you take the best bits of “Hannah” and combine them with the forest aspect of “While She Was Out”, then add a touch of revenge from the underrated film “Julia X”, you’d have something pretty close to Final Girl.
The smooth editing and smart shot choices make for a really polished result. It’s accompanied by a nice mix, of suspense based score and the right amount of 50s/60s music. The lighting is the facet that really tipped the scales for me. I was in the minority with my opinions on this years popular Horror film “It Follows”. The one thing I felt stood out in that film was the particular mood it invoked. It’s much the same with Final Girl, the lighting and atmosphere are perfect. Everything from the woods which are lit very carefully, to the subtle fog that floats between the trees. Many of the shots are just faintly silhouetted and incredibly effective, its rare to see that kind of structure or attention to detail from a first time director. If not for a few small things I could have been tricked into thinking this was a film set in the 50’s. Chris’s old car, the local diner hang out where they drink their shakes and prey upon their next victim, it’s all very 50’s inspired. I think the fact that both women in the film wear Red and White helped to signify purity and innocence. White is a very natural and unsullied shade, on the other hand Red almost says “I’m not who you think I am”.
The character development is adequate given what the story entails, but I still would’ve liked to know a little more about Wes Bentley’s character. What was it he actually did? Was he an independent contractor of sorts, or did he work for a corporation? Is there a particular reason he chose Veronica? Like I said, they aren’t questions that have to be answered for you to enjoy the film, I just wanted more of an arc for him. The truth or dare sequences in the middle act could have been shortened. It wasn’t even that they ran overly long, it was more because other than some verbal jousting, not much is made of it. There’s also some mixed messaging in Chris’s delivery, although that may have been part of the cat and mouse game. Not to mention Veronica is never really made to suffer, and neither is the girl we first get a glimpse of early in the film. An extended sequence or two during the hunting scenes might have helped with a growing hatred toward these rich boys.
The hallucinogenic element, at least that’s what I’m calling it (without spoiling anything) was a little misplaced. The writing doesn’t give Veronica enough credit to take care of the situation on her own. She relies on that particular type of assistance and if she’s as well-trained as we’re led to believe, she should have gone at it alone. I thought those moments that were supposed to be darkly comedic didn’t quite gauge either. Instead, it would have been nice to see more of the action sequences and have these guys get what they really deserved. I know this isn’t “I Spit On Your Grave”, but it seemed like that revenge element of the film was over quite suddenly.
I was pleasantly surprised by Tyler Shield’s Final Girl, and I’m now looking forward to his new film “Outlaw”. What we have here is far from a unique story, but a proficiently paced and adeptly moody film none the less. Its three clear-cut entertaining acts, accurate camera work and some of the best music and lighting make this a standout film. The wonderful performances, and in particular from Breslin, Bentley and Huffman, along with all the 50’s inspired additions make Final Girl great. A bit more on-screen action and a few alterations to the script could have helped sharpened this one up. However, it’s still a wonderful film that unfortunately won’t be seen by the masses. These tend to fly under the radar so I thought I’d do a write-up and tell you to pick up a copy of this one as soon as you can!
My rating for “Final Girl” is 7.5/10