One of the great things about modern horror is that we are opening up discussions about the final girl and what she represents. There has always been an interesting debate about slasher movies, and whether or not the final girl is a beacon for feminism or an opportunity to display misogynistic attitudes in the guise of entertainment.
In past, a lot of that argument has been linked to some of the tropes in horror movies that are beginning to fade a little today. One of the biggest tropes of horror has been the look at sexuality. It has been pointed out in many modern horror films that use meta to discuss the view of virginity in slasher flicks, particularly those of the 80s, that in general, if you have sex, you die. The final girl is usually the virgin, suggesting that the character who is more “pure” should be the one to survive, embedding sexual activity as a cautionary tale. “You want to have sex with your boyfriend? You’ll get chopped up with a machete!!!!”
As views on sexuality have changed over the years, the stigma of having a final girl who is a virgin in modern horror movies has gone to the wayside. It is just not realistic in today’s society that virginity should be tied to being smarter, faster, or just plain luckier. Discussion about sex and women’s ownership of sex have become more open and commonplace. Sex is not viewed as a shameful act, or one that makes you slutty, or prudish if you are a virgin. Sex is a choice that women have, rather than a label. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the teens who are having sex being the ones that get chopped up. I feel like if you have a group of teens that includes couples, when left without adult supervision, that is exactly what is going to happen. The ones having sex are not a cautionary tale for what happens when you do; they are a cautionary tale for being distracted when in an unfamiliar environment in which urban legend says a dude with a hook hand is wandering around.
While there are still plenty of modern horror movies that explore the concept of a final girl through sex and sexual activity, there are plenty of modern horror movies that create final girls with more depth than whether or not they’ve gotten laid. By far my favourite of these horror heroines is Erin, the final girl in one of the great, underrated slashers out there, You’re Next, directed by Adam Wingard.
You’re Next is about Erin (Sharni Vinson), a girl who is going to meet her boyfriend’s parents for the first time. They are heading out for the parent’s anniversary at their remote vacation home, and will be joined by all of her boyfriend’s siblings and their significant others. Unfortunately, the evening is spoiled when a group of masked killers begin picking them off one by one.
One thing that I loved about Erin is she does not have a backstory that twisted her into a badass. There is a tendency in some horror in the last several years to have rape be a motive for a girl in a horror movie to lash back. So, she becomes the final girl but is also the killer. While sometimes, when done right (I’m looking at you, genius fellow Canadians, the Soska Sisters, and your masterpiece American Mary), other times, I feel like it sends this weird message that death is the only way to punish these guys or that murder in a non-self defense way is weirdly okay. I always wonder after these types of movies what happens afterward when the justice system that we live in in the real world kicks in. It is notorious for turning sexual assault situations into a “he said, she said” scenario, yes, but at the same time when The Last House on the Left ended, did anyone think that a judge was going to be cool with the fact that the last scumbag, scumbag or not, had his head duct taped inside a microwave that was left propped to on and had his head explode? Probably not.
Erin, on the other hand, does have a backstory, but not a conventional or stereotypical one for horror. I won’t spoil it for you, as I think that it makes for one of the best scenes in the movies as she matter of factly goes around setting traps, locking windows, and informing people that heading to the basement is a bad idea because they will easily become cornered. What I love about her backstory is that it becomes obvious that the backstory portrays who she is. She has been somewhat pretending to fit in with this family that she is visiting, and doesn’t trust her boyfriend enough yet that she has shared that part of herself. It is a backstory that is definitely one that I was not expecting, but she shares it bluntly, and it is clear that while it is something that is in her past, rather than run from it or repress it, she lived it, she accepts it, and she kept the lessons that she learned. She is also clearly very smart, and this comes through loud and clear. She thinks of things that I definitely wouldn’t in that situation, and because of her background is always thinking ahead, always has a contingency plan. This ability to have the final girl embrace herself is what made me fall in love with this character.
What made Erin a truly refreshing character, overall, was confidence. She was able to read a situation and know what would work, or if it didn’t what she could do instead. She was also able to be open about the fact that she was better in the situation than her boyfriend was. The finale (again, spoiler free, because this movie deserves it), also demonstrates that she is someone who knows who she is. Better than that, she knows who she isn’t.
Intelligent, confident, and over a serious badass, Erin is a stellar example of the final girl that we should strive for.