DVDanger: Final Girl

Abigail Breslin, the revisionist scream queen

Final girl (n.): trope in genre films of surviving female in a horror or thriller film; character that becomes toughened and skilled enough through their experience to overcome their assailant.

Yeah, not in Final Girl, the third subversive horror in quick succession starring Abigail Breslin.

What big eyes you have: Abigail Breslin dismantles a cinematic trope in Final Girl.

She's done zombies (the emotionally loaded Maggie) and ghosts (Haunters), and for her latest role, she rewires the machinery of the slasher flick into something more stylish, innovative, and radically different to the chop 'em, shock 'em standard fare.

Breslyn plays Veronica, a young girl orphaned in unknown circumstances who quickly finds herself taken into the care of a benefactor named William (Wes Bentley, American Horror Story). Their relationship is quickly revealed to be different than the standard adoption: During their first encounter, William tells an infant Veronica (Gracyn Shinyei) that his wife and daughter have been murdered. So begins her training to become a weapon of vengeance and justice, a teen La Femme Nikita: the hunter, never the hunted.

That conversation is the first sign that the debut feature by inline skater-turned-photographer Tyler Shields is not going to follow the standard rules. Final girls are supposed to be surprisingly strong. The worst mistake that a film can make is to make them unconvincingly morph into an unstoppable killing machine. That is, for the record, part of why You're Next is so successful: When Erin (Sharni Vinson) turns on her attackers, there's a narrative logic.

It's the same here. We are shown Veronica in training, but what's really interesting is that it's not a flashback. A lesser script would have her skills be revealed as a huge surprise, a cheap trick. Instead, when Veronica is sent by William to dispatch a quartet of rich, spoiled kids that have made a hobby of hunting high school girls and killing them in the woods, we know they're likely doomed. The question then is how quickly they will be whittled down to the final boy.

This is a change of pace for Breslin. In her prior horror outings, she has portrayed a young woman coming to terms with losing the right to grow up. Here, she's embracing an adulthood that, while more than unconventional, is absolutely what she wants it to be. She is a porcelain doll with a razor smile, aiming awkward glances and sexual tension at the glacial and purposefully oblivious William, and sending out deceptive signals that she is the clueless ingenue to the predatory aristocratic spawn.

It's an extremely stylized narrative, but then everything that Shields does here is stylized. From the cool noir visual references (even the protagonist's name is a clear nod to Veronica Lake) to the doo-wop posturing of the ill-fated killers, there's something off-kilter and other-worldly about his walk in the woods. He's also not afraid to make this gloriously artificial, a timeless fairy tale where doublet and hose is replaced by bow ties and tuxedos. The illumination, once a scarlet-clad Veronica walks with meek purpose into the trap, is stagelike: spotlight pools of light creating the feel of promenade theatre as the boys stumble into the setpiece of their demise.

The stylishness may be off-putting. Moreover, Shields provides the beginning, the middle, but only some of the end for Veronica and William, almost implying that there could be a cinematic future for the pair. But considering the elegant bones upon which he rests this shadow of a story, more meat in further adventures may not be a bad thing.

Final Girl (Cinedigm) is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD.

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