Final Girls: The Key To Horror Films

Perhaps one of the most interesting genres in the film industry is horror. With the passage of time, horror movies have grown into distinct varieties, such as slasher and horror-thriller. Scary movies have a way of entertaining that leaves us with bigger impressions than any other genre; mostly because they aim for being less predictable. Some of the things that make horror films one of the best topics of discussion are: their tropes, clichés and general rules of structure (as well as the rules of survival). Many horror films get creative with these and use them in their favor to create a bigger plot or an unpredictable twist.

The most popular horror franchise to take a new perspective into horror tropes and clichés is the Scream movies and TV series, as they even became popular for being the first to really bring out there the rules of survival. Some of the most common tropes in horror are: Jump Scares (which get used way too often sometimes), The Abandoned Place, The Vengeful Spirit, Death by Sex, and The Final Girl. This last one being the most popular one among audiences. Horror movies that feature this trope are often well received more than the ones that don’t.  

The Final Girl is defined as a trope (particularly in Slasher films) that refers to the last girl or woman alive  to confront the killer, ostensibly the one left to tell the story. This term was coined in1992 by Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Here she studied Slasher movies from the 70’s and 80's; Clover suggested that in these films, the viewers began by sharing the perspective of the killer, yet they experienced a shift in identification to the final girl partway through the film.

Clover explains that the term of Final Girl can be applied to those female characters who get a final confrontation with the villain, this being whether she kills him or she is saved at the last minute by someone else; meaning that final girls don’t always get an ending scene where they stare at the sunset covered in blood in order to be one. Another characteristic she found on this type of characters is how they tend to have such a "privilege" because of her implied moral superiority.

This last characteristic can be appreciated more when the movie in question stars teenage characters. Is very common to see then, a stereotypical “virginal” girl, who will  contrast with the other characters, often because her friends are written as “overly promiscuous” or she’s given scenes where her morality stands out. Usual scenarios would include having her being the only one in the group not drinking or being the only one who refuses to use  drugs. She’s meant to be this way, because she’s the one who’s meant to appeal to the audience as someone too good to deserve to die.

Clover argues that final girls become masculinized through "phallic appropriation" by taking up a weapon against the killer; and so of the male audience having to identify with a young female character in an ostensibly male-oriented genre, usually associated with sadistic voyeurism, raises interesting questions about the nature of slasher films and their relationship with feminism. Clover also understands that for a film to be successful, it is necessary for this surviving character to be female because many viewers would reject a film that showed abject terror on the part of a male. This of course having exceptions, when considered the success of movies such as Get Out (2017) where Chris Washington practically substitutes the spot of  a final girl, as well as many others. 

The Final Girl trope is popular enough that there’s even a movie called  Final Girl (2015) as well as another one Final Girls (2015), where the trope is slightly satire, as well as reinforced to be a central key in a good horror movie. The Scream TV  series also made a point in reinforcing the Final Girl trope (as well as other essential characters) as probably the most important part of a Slasher story, in their first two seasons. The characters even have commentary on which one is the final girl of their story and the writers titled one of their more impacting episodes “Final Girls”. 

However, this trope has evolved along the years, as the industry changes. Many horror films nowadays tend to go a slightly different direction. You can see on newer slasher movies where the girl is one with a dark past and not a stereotypical virgin. Two examples of this could be: Donna from Prom night (2008) and Amy from Straw Dogs (2011); where they have connections to their villains and aren’t portrayed as innocent or naïve. Other horror clichés include having a Final Girl turn to the dark side; suggesting that the events were terrible enough to change the perspective of this character yet leaving enough space for the viewers to still feel as if they deserve better.

Of course, many movies don’t have a real Final Girl. If the movie ends up with a killer on the loose, there’s a chance these characters won’t be considered a Final Girl.  One character where there’s debate on whether she’s a Final Girl or not is Jill Johnson from When a Stranger Calls (2006), hence she isn’t neither safe nor quite sane at the end of the movie.

Most importantly, Final Girls have gone from being damsels in distress, to be the heroes of the story. This characters now represents way more than the sweet girl who you hope will survive; she represents the women who fight till the very end and aren't afraid to face  death on their own. These characters show us how important it is to use our strengths and even how we can emerge victorious with them. It’s important that the film industry keeps moving forward and that writers keep coming up with even better and developed Final Girls for this generation of film lovers to appreciate even more.