Muddled Messages Hold ‘Final Girl’ Back From Its Feminist Potential

Do you ever notice that conversations about feminism tend to get off track?  It’s a topic that I find people talk in circles around depending on how much they know about it or who they’re talking to.  People tend to not want to speak overly passionately about gender equality for two reasons: fear of offending, or fear of coming across as what they perceive as “feminist.”  It is an idea that has a definition, but has become culturally used so broadly that it seems that everyone has a different idea of what it means to be a feminist.

While I was watching Final Girl, I felt like I was in the middle of one of those conversations.

Final Girl is the story of Veronica, a genius who is orphaned and taken in by William.  William is himself suffering, having lived through the murder of his wife and daughter.  Fast forward to twelve years later, little Veronica is all grown up, and William has honed her to be a killing machine.  He has his sights set on a group of rich boys who lure girls into the woods, play the creepiest game of Truth or Dare ever, then let the girl run for a few minutes before catching and killing her.  William’s goal is to get Veronica in their path to entice them, and then sic her on them in the woods.

Even now after mulling it over, I find myself torn as to what it was that the film was trying to say about feminism.  This was a project that was clearly trying to say SOMETHING.  If it wasn’t, there would be no final girl kicking butt; William would have just gone in there himself and taken them out.  That’s what was a little odd to me.  William could easily have taken out these people by himself.  It stands to reason that the trainer could kick some butt, right?  I mean, Mr. Miagi didn’t like it, but he could kick ass if he had to.

Stylistically, this movie is beautiful.  It has this great noir feel to it, complete with ominous silhouettes and pretty 60s party dresses.  But setting it in the 60s just reinforces that the movie is trying to say an elusive SOMETHING about women’s choices.  Why have a story of a girl kicking ass, set in the 60s, if you’re not attempting to say something about women’s freedoms, choices, or how far we’ve come or not?  Looking at it through a strict settings lens, this movie was clearly trying to show that women can think, and should not be underestimated.  Women can be more than mothers, teachers or housewives.  They can be professors, lawyers, doctors…or in this case, assassins.

But here’s the rub: her mentor.

If this movie was trying to make a point about feminist culture, William negated it.  This girl was raised to serve a purpose for him.  This is evident in the set up at the start – it is obvious that this girl has a smidge of an empathy problem, and William is delighted when he sees how she reacts to the discussion about the death of her parents.  It really is brainwashing.  He gives an order, she accepts it.  But in doing this, the screenwriters actually remove any discussion of choice.  Her actions are also devoid of any feeling; she is merely a vessel of revenge for William.  She is the hitman equivalent of a 60s housewife, dutifully doing what is expected of her.  She seems to have zero other goals and ambitions other than the ones that have been set for her.

Worse than this, she is being used as bait in the worst possible way.  William wants to hit these boys where they live.  He wants to punish them.  This girl is no superhero.  She is still outweighed by them, and outnumbered by them.  She even drugs them prior to the games beginning, which gives her an edge.  The fight scenes are awesome, and very raw.  She is not a ninja, nor a hardcore assassin a la Atomic Blonde.  She is a girl in a cocktail dress and heels, ditched by her mentor and hunted by multiple experienced serial killers.  He basically drops her off and wishes her luck, not even attempting to put himself in a position to help.  If he’d put a guy in this same scenario, he’s still the biggest dick mentor on the face of the earth.

I really wanted to feel more girl power coming from this one, but all I could get was a continuous loop of arguments in my head that made my brain hurt.  Girls can fight! (…but only if she drugs her captor first)Girls can be what they want! (…as long as they’re doing what was decided was the best use of her genius by someone else)Girls are smart! (but only when trained by a man with experience first).  In fact, at one point, my addled brain started to reach and wonder if the fact that the message was hard to nail down was the point.

Sadly, this is actually an inner conflict that many women experience today – being told that we can do anything that we want, but then struggling to manage and achieve what we feel is expected of us.  It almost makes sense, actually, and is a struggle that many women find themselves dealing with daily.  However, the fact that I had to reach so hard to find this in the end leads me to believe that it’s a bit of a stretch that this was the intended message of Final Girl.

I was hoping that the message would be clear to me by the end of the movie, and I think that I needed a little more interaction between her and the absent William to help me clarify things.  But, in the end, mission accomplished, it’s unclear what is in store for our vigilante heroine.  There’s a bit of a Dexter vibe in her lack of empathy, but William isn’t a father figure.  I didn’t get the feeling that he has honed her skills because he is concerned that she will run around slaughtering random civilians if not.

Unfortunately, the fact that the message was so mixed was what really failed to bring this one to a fully formed discussion of feminism for me.  It was like it was trying so hard to say that SOMETHING that it ended up saying nothing.  Which is really too bad…there was a lot of opportunity here for an examination of what was happening below the surface.

All in all, this was an entertaining movie full of gorgeous cinematography, good action, and enough of a creep factor to make it an entertaining watch.  If you’re looking for a horror movies that examines morals, ethics, or equality between the sexes, however, this isn’t the one to do it.

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