On a busy opening night of the South by Southwest film festival, in between the premieres of Ondi Timoner’s documentary “Brand: A Second Coming” and Karyn Kusama’s tense, eerie thriller “The Invitation,” came the horror-comedy “The Final Girls.”
Taking the stage at the Paramount Theater to introduce the film, Janet Pierson, head of SXSW Film, said that the room itself played into the festival’s selection process, for the energy and excitement that generates among the crowd.
“I love seeing movies here. Things play great,” she said. “And as we’re programming we look for stuff that we know will really be particularly fun and beautiful here.”
“Final Girls” director Todd Strauss-Schulson recalled seeing the premiere of Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” at the Paramount during the festival in 2009.
“It was the greatest thing, I waited on line for like two hours and smoked weed with strangers,” he said to cheers. “Then the movie played and people lost their [minds], they were laughing and cheering, they were a bunch of cinephile maniacs, loving that movie. It was the best vibe for me and it reminded me why I love movies so much, sitting in a room full of you lunatics.”
Before the movie started he added, “Whenever I would lose my way or forget what it was I was trying to pull off or what it was for or the energy I wanted, I would, genuinely -- this sounds cheesy -- but I would genuinely think back to ‘Drag Me to Hell,’ that moment, in that room and how … cool that was. So for me, right now, this is incredible.”
In the film a young woman, Max (Taissa Farmiga), mourning the death of her mother (Malin Akerman), goes to a screening of a 1980s horror movie her mother had starred in. When a fire breaks out in the theater, Max and her friends escape by cutting a hole in the screen and walking through. They suddenly find themselves inside the movie, fighting off the killer at a summer camp and trying to figure out how to get back to reality.
The film’s knowing, playful sensibility toward horror movies -- who dies, when and why, how to survive -- went over well with the audience, which laughed and cheered throughout much of the show. It played like a party, and that continued with a freewheeling Q&A afterward.
After the screening, Strauss-Schulson and one of the film’s two co-writers, M.A. Fortin (co-writer Joshua John Miller was not there), introduced the cast. Out came Farmiga, Akerman, Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, Alia Shawkat, Nina Dobrev, Alexander Ludwig, Angela Trimbur and Tory Thompson.
The group seemed to really be enjoying themselves, with an infectious camaraderie (and beer being passed around) among them. Strauss-Schulson noted that was exactly what he was hoping for in assembling the large ensemble.
“It was a really young cast, the roles are really funny, I wanted everyone on the movie to be 35 or younger." And with that Akerman, 36, jokingly started to walk off stage. "I wanted a very young, fun group. So it felt like we were thrown into a camp and it just felt like we were getting away with something.”
Another question specifically asked about how the movie dealt with its female characters and the horror genre -- an early question referred to “the crushing of the tropes” -- in a positive way.
Fortin specifically referenced the work of Carol J. Glover, who coined the term “final girl” in the 1992 book “Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.”
“Horror movies are the only movies where men actually identify with a female,” Fortin said. “There’s no other genre where men will identify with a woman. And if I was a woman that would scare ... me. So when we set out to write this, about final girl tropes and the idea of the final girl, we wanted to makes sure as goofy and crazy as it could be, we wanted to make sure their real relationships were as grounded as possible and the people were real.”
Someone asked if the movie within the movie had a different original ending than what is seen once the characters from “The Final Girls” enter its universe.
The audience briefly chattered about what would be, in genre movie parlance, considered “canon.”
“Let’s not poke holes, OK?" said DeVine. “We all enjoyed it.”
Follow on Twitter: @IndieFocus
We’re at South by Southwest until March 22. Join us at latimes.com/sxsw for ongoing coverage of the festival.