Final Girls, by Riley Sager

Short Take: I’m guessing this is a setup for the sequel…..

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We’ve all seen her in every horror movie… Her hair is matted with sweat and blood, but her lipstick has nary a smudge. She’s breathing in gasping sobs as she tries to outrun (insert generic horror movie villain here), but her eye makeup is still flawless. Her shirt (probably white) is artfully torn so as to expose a hint of skin, but nothing too risque. She’s built like someone obsessed with fitness, but her weak dainty ankle gets twisted on the first small obstacle in her path.

She’s the girl who didn’t sneak off to drink and smoke weed and have sex. And at the end of the movie, she’s the only one who survives to fight (generic horror movie villain), at least until the sequel. And the next sequel. And the one after that. And the reboot.

So even though her name and face will change, the Final Girl is a cliche set in stone. She’s a joke among jaded horror fans (read: all of us). So it was with some trepidation that I picked up Riley Sager’s Final Girls, a novel exploring the lives of the girls who survive the massacres. Truthfully, whichever way the book went would have been unsatisfying – the shiny happy fairy tale ending is always a load of bunk, but if the author went for dark and bleak, well, hasn’t this poor girl suffered enough? Does she really have to go through it all again (before the sequel)?

Hats off to Riley Sager, you did not give me exactly either of those things, and for a story that’s as out-there as this one is, the ending for one Final Girl is relatively satisfying.

Final Girls’ plot centers around, well, three Final Girls, although we only get the perspective of one of them:  ten years ago, Quincy Carpenter was the only person to make it out of Pine Cottage alive, when an escaped mental patient went on a killing spree at the cabin where she was staying with several of her friends from college. The maniac is shot by a conveniently nearby cop, and Quincy attempts to move on with her life. She can’t actually remember what happened at the cabin that night, but despite the nightmares and mood swings, staunchly pursues normalcy.  She starts a baking website, pops a Xanax (or a couple) every day, and has a bland but peaceful relationship with her fiance Jeff.

Quincy is in phone and email contact occasionally with another Final Girl, Lisa, who survived a Ted-Bundy-ish slaughter at her sorority house. Lisa revels in her role, writing a book about being a Final Girl, counseling other victims of violent crime, doing interviews, the whole thing. Quincy keeps her at arm’s length as she tries to put Pine Cottage behind her and stay out of the spotlight.  And although both Quincy and Lisa know of the third Final Girl, Samantha Boyd, Samantha has gone off the grid, and so, despite Oprah’s attempts to get them all together, the Final Girls have never met.

That is, until Lisa’s apparent suicide hits the news, and Samantha shows up on Quincy’s doorstep. She needs a place to stay, and is also deeply upset about Lisa’s death. Samantha only wants to get to know Quincy, to make sure that she’s OK – or so she claims. Her intentions become much murkier as she persuades Quincy to join her in dangerous, violent situations and hounds her relentlessly about her missing memories of Pine Cottage.

In the end, there are a few decent-ish twists, followed by a final reveal that was… well…

Stupid.

Yes, stupid. Lame. Dumb. Bordering on ridiculous. As bad as, if not worse than, any scene of a Final Girl staggering through the mist, gasping, sobbing, hair a mess but makeup flawless, etc.

Final Girls attempted to elevate the idea, to take a deep, hard look at what it would be like for the survivor of major trauma to live in the aftermath, which was a really fresh, clever idea. Then it decided to dive headfirst into another sophomoric cliche and stay there.

Because the only trope more worn-out than the Final Girl is the Criminal Mastermind, the guy who’s able to commit heinous crimes, repeatedly, without leaving a shred of evidence, let alone getting caught. The guy who, at the end of the story, wastes screen time/pages revealing his Brilliant Plan just before getting shot or stabbed in some way that a true mastermind would’ve seen coming. That guy annoys the bugdirt out of me.

So I’m betting that Final Girls is just the first book in the series, and the inevitable sequel will be called Masterminds or something similar, and it will focus on what happens to the bad guy after he gets shot or stabbed in some ridiculously improbable way once he’s confessed all of his misdeeds to a Final Girl.

And everyone knows that sequels are never as good as the original.

The Nerd’s Rating: TWO HAPPY NEURONS (and a Xanax, hold the grape soda).

twohappyneurons

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