What happens after the horror movie?
Enough slasher movies have been made over the last 35 years that it’s surprising more filmmakers haven’t begun experimenting and deconstructing the genre. Sure, there have been a few notable examples, chief among them Wes Craven’s Scream. But even that was 20 years ago at this point, and after a slight resurgence that slasher has faded away again to the point that movies commenting on the slasher movie are hard to come by. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a good one. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is fun. And now writer/director Benjamin R. Moody’s new film Last Girl Standing can be added to that list.
Last Girl Standing begins where every other slasher movie ends: final girl Camryn (Akasha Villalobos) has survived the carnage of The Hunter, a masked killer’s attack that left all of her friends dead. She manages to fight back and kill the slasher, but it comes at a price: Camryn is left permanently damaged by the ordeal and has a difficult time readjusting to normal life, seeing the attacker everywhere she turns. She gets a job at a laundromat and meets some new friends, but the memories won’t stop haunting her. When Camryn begins to suspect that the killer has returned, things go from bad to worse.
The filmmakers behind Last Girl Standing face something of an uphill battle: they have made a movie that is really targeted at hardcore slasher fans, who are really the audience that will best appreciate what it is the movie is trying to do and identify the ropes that are being tweaked. At the same time, because it’s much more of a psychological drama than a straight slasher movie, there are horror fans who will be left cold by the movie and feel denied of the things that brought them to the slasher subgenre in the first place. It’s true that for most of its running time, Last Girl Standing is mostly a drama exploring the PTSD-like effects of surviving a horror movie (territory previously explored by Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, a movie I was forever defend as being underrated in case you need a barometer for where my tastes lie). But it’s a compelling drama at that, made all the more effective by the central performance from Akasha Villalobos, who is asked to play so many raw and exposed emotions and leaves nothing on the table.
Don’t think that the movie is some talky, somber chamber drama, though. Director Moody sets up a number of tense scenes in which Camryn isn’t sure if she’s really being stalked by a returning Hunter or if she’s just seeing things, and when the time comes to cut loose with the gore the movie never spares the blood. Last Girl Standing still functions as a horror film, but it’s one more interested in a kind of meta-exploration of what it’s like for the people actually living through them than it is in providing the thrills of a traditional slasher. For someone like myself who has already seen dozens upon dozens of slashers, the change is a welcome one. This is the kind of horror movie that rewards you for being a fan of horror movies.
Last Girl Standing comes to DVD courtesy of MPI in a 1.85:1-framed anamorphic transfer that’s solid while still acknowledging the movie’s low-budget origins. It’s grungy looking, but colors are well-represented and black levels appear stable. The 5.1 surround audio mix keeps most of the activity in the front and center channels but the other speakers kick in during some of the “horror” scenes, when the screaming or the score gets an extra boost. Two commentaries are included on the disc: the first with the husband and wife team of writer/director Ben Moody and producer Rachel Moody, and the second with Moody and stars Akasha Villalobos and Danielle Elon Ploeger. There is an excellent hour-long “making of” documentary that talks about the formation of Blue Goggles Productions and how the movie came together; most of the major participants are interviewed and the piece really increases one’s appreciation for everyone’s commitment to this low-budget, independent horror film. Also included is a gag reel, some test footage of the “Hunter” slasher, some behind-the-scenes fight rehearsals, a tour of the set and the original trailer.
It’s nice to know that even after 100 years and thousands of movies, there are filmmakers who are still finding new ways to approach the horror genre and trying to tell stories that haven’t already been told a hundred times before. While it’s still got plenty of rough edges, I admire the passion and the ambition behind everyone involved with Last Girl Standing. The direction is smart, the performances strong and the premise fresh. It’s the kind of independent horror movie I feel good about championing.