Starring Akasha Villalobos, Danielle Evon Ploeger and Brian Villalobos
Written and Directed by Benjamin R. Moody
Out Feb 29th on VOD from FrightFest Presents
“She survived a brutal massacre, but lost her life. What happens to the final girl after the credits roll?” Via IMDb.
Last Girl Standing opens midway through the finale of your typical slasher film: our Final Girl Camryn is on the run from a backwoods slasher, most of her friends have been brutally dispatched and put on display. The masked killer, monikered The Hunter, battles with Camryn, but she’s tough, and even tougher to kill. In true Final Girl fashion, Camryn fights back, and kills The Hunter. She wanders away, bloody and bedraggled, reminiscent of the last scene of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to an unknown future…
But instead of ending there, cut to five years later. Camryn is living a self-imposed isolated existence in a small town, working in a laundrette while trying to forget her traumatic past. She’s already suffering night terrors, but when new guy Nick starts at her workplace, Camryn’s past begins intruding on her life in more extreme ways. She grows closer to Nick, and his motley crew of roommates, and so does, apparently, The Hunter. But is any of it real, or has Camryn been affected more than she thinks by the horrors of her past?
Going off the synopsis you’d expect Last Girl Standing to be a self-referential, meta-horror along the lines of Scream, Cabin In The Woods or the recent The Final Girls. But what we get instead is a serious, quite somber character study, an examination of mental illness, specifically PTSD. Writer and Director Benjamin R. Moody uses the format of the slasher film as a jumping off point, but then abandons the tropes of the genre completely. Although the approach is mostly refreshing, it also makes for quite a grim, sour affair.
One of the problems with psychological horrors like this is that they only offer 50/50 outcomes: either Camryn’s experiences are real and part of an elaborate plot; or she is completely delusional. And with only those options, and a fairly obvious execution, Last Girl Standing leads to an inevitable conclusion that savvy horror fans will see coming from a mile away. But either way, the themes and characterisation of Camryn are brave when put into the context of a slasher, and display a rare intelligence for the sub-genre.
Akasha Villalobos does well as Camryn, but I feel her character could have been better established in the beginning, maybe made more likeable, for her arc to pack more of a punch. Come the end, the film resorts to a slightly simplistic interpretation of a very complex and serious mental illness, but could have been set up better with foreshadowing. Akasha’s real life husband Brian Villalobos conveys an easy going slacker charm as Nick, and is easily the most identifiable character. Just an amiable guy who likes a girl, but is oblivious to the volcano about to erupt inside her. Ploeger stars as Danielle, the roommate that grows closest to Camryn, and is fine in a fairly one note role. The rest of the roommates never really go beyond hipster stereotypes, and a little too much effort is thrown into smartass banter instead of actual character.
Events build and conspire to an ending that, as stated before is fairly predictable, is no less powerful. After the slow build of dread, the film explodes in some scenes of shocking gore and violence. Couple that with taut direction, a tight structure, decent synth score and an appropriately nihilistic world view, and Moody has made a hell of feature film debut.
While not perfect, Last Girl Standing gets its point across. A dark, cynical exploration of the psychology behind slasher films, Moody takes the subject deadly serious. Suggesting that nobody gets out of a slasher movie without some serious scars, it also ends on a note that violence leads to violence, a circle of death and insanity that will never end. Like I said, it works on a number of levels and is really intelligent. Beat that Jason Voorhees!