All hail Final Girls! Review of The Monster (2016, Bertino)

Posted by Tanja Jurković on May 26, 2017 in Reviews, Tanja Jurkovic tagged with

 

Usually when I need some sort of inspiration, I find a list of movies and randomly choose one based on the movie’s cover. I am using that somewhat overrated approach: if the cover looks good then it must be good! Of course, that is not always the case. Nevertheless, in the case of The Monster (2016, Bertino)it was. It was good. And quite enjoyable. 

The film starts with a story of a divorced young mother (Zoe Kezino) and her preadolescent daughter (Ella Ballentine), who seems to have all the bad luck in her young life. She is not a child, she is forced to grow up; cleaning the house, making food, yelling at her mother to get up and do something with her life, something other than drinking and fornicating with various men. When we finally see the mother, we realise why that little girl is so responsible, so hardworking, so headstrong and so unhappy. Her mother is not much older than her, and she is compensating for the life that she couldn’t have because of pregnancy at a young age, at the same time drowning her sorrows in a huge amount of alcohol because of her divorce. When the mom finally pulls herself together on that fate driven day, they both set out on a road trip to get the girl to her father (Scott Speedman)because it is his turn to see her, not knowing that something monstrous awaits in the darkness of a cold autumn evening.

We are all familiar with the final girl trope, Carol J. Clover’s theory on female role in contemporary horror films:

“The one character of stature who does live to tell the tale is of course female. The Final Girl is introduced at the beginning and is the only character to be developed in any psychological detail. We understand immediately from the attention paid it that hers is the main story line. She is intelligent, watchful, level-headed; the first character to sense something amiss and the only one to deduce from the accumulating evidence the patterns and extent of the threat; the only one, in other words, whose perspective approaches our own privileged understanding of the situation. We register her horror as she stumbles on the corpses of her friends; her paralysis in the face of death duplicates those moments of the universal nightmare experience on which horror frankly trades. When she downs the killer, we are triumphant. She is by any measure the slasher film’s hero.”

Therefore, for most of us viewers, final girls are our most favourite characters that we encounter through film experience.

On the other hand, I found an article that gives reasons why the final girl is the worst thing for women in horror. It states that, among other things, “final girls are terrible because they immediately force a film to follow a specific formula”, “the final girl doesn’t just limit the characterisations of female protagonists, it also continues to limit the idea of a female villain”, and that the existence of final girls diminishes the role of other female characters who do not fall into the category of a beautiful, naive, innocent girl who fights the killer in the end, and lives. Regarding the specific formula, of course, every film genre by default has its own specific formula that works. Horror genre is no different and this is perhaps, the most represented and accentuated within the specific “safe” space of the genre itself. Nevertheless, horror genre, as any other film genre, evolves, or sometimes devolves, and in that way influences the general formula that is widely accepted among filmmakers. Interesting thing with horror genre is that it is constantly evolving, slowly, despite the possible constraints of this specific formula that mainly applies to slasher films, including the final girl trope, but that is not necessarily the case when it comes to other examples/sub-genres of horror, or even when looking at the bigger picture, by extending this “influence” outside the boundaries of the Western film production. For example, the final girl trope is used in a different way in the European context, so sometimes we have final girls who do fill in the main role of the trope, but also, their happy ending is usually not that happy and does not follow the I-killed-the-monster-and-now-I-am-free line of the formula. I think that we should look at the existing Clover’s theory on the final girl as a guide on how to expand on the same theory, rather than just limiting ourselves to what has already been written and trying to dissect it; instead, move the borders of the theoretical scope in order to find and explore possible new conclusions and additions to the original theory. Because things are changing. Furthermore, if the final girl limits the existence of a female villain, how is it then, that even in slasher films, where final girl trope is almost exclusive and obligatory, villains sometimes, turn out to be – women? Friday the 13th‘s Mrs.Voorhees is a good example. Regarding other female characters that compliment the existence and the prestige of our final girl, are often not being given any kind of depth of character, but that relationship might change as the horror genre evolves.

In The Monster, we have the feeling that the mother is our final girl, beautiful and cute rebellious blonde, but as the story unravels in front of our eyes, we slowly realise that that same beautiful cute rebellious blonde is one of those female characters that actually compliment the final girl. She is not fat, as the author of the above mentioned article points out as an argument for her conclusions, she is not a part of a minority group, she is the personification, a tortured one, of the final girl trope…on the outside. But, she does not fit into that role.

The Monster analyses a mother-daughter relationship through memory flashes that construct the background story of the two characters involved, the hardships of being a teenage mom, and the consequences on the child after she reaches preadolescent age. Memories are triggered by either a similar movement that the mother and daughter share, or an expression used between the two, or even a toy that plays lullabies, which adds to the creepy effect of the film, and explains the moment when the girl’s dad left them, and she was blamed for it. All of these inconspicuous details, that the director nevertheless clearly points out to the viewer, forces the audience to connect the dots and form a whole story.

As previously mentioned, the mother and the daughter set out on a road trip and their car breaks down on the back road in the middle of the forest, and in the middle of nowhere, after they hit a wolf. They phone for road help and the ambulance, as they were hurt in the crash. The rain that falls on and off in intervals creates the atmosphere of continuous waiting without anyone coming, which makes the film a bit slow while watching it, and getting out of the car in order to check the state of the dead wolf implies an ominous presence in the forest. When help finally arrives, it arrives in the form of a big older man named Jesse, who suffers a horrible death not long after, and the ambulance team with the same outcome, but it gives the main characters options to escape this hopeless situation. The mother also experiences a moment of courage and basic motherly instinct, and, in order to protect her child, makes a plan of getting out of the car to reach Jesse’s car, but is abruptly taken by the vicious monster from the forest, through the car window. Her death is postponed by the arrival of the ambulance, and that is the moment when we realise that the final girl is in fact, the little girl.

She is young, innocent, clever and fearless, despite the fact that she grew up too soon having to take on the role of the mother and carer in her life. She looks at danger in the face, screaming that she is not afraid, just before she sets the monster ablaze and sends it to the abysmal hell where it belongs. She sees the light at the end of the tunnel, and with a hoodie which is now all red, and delightfully reminds us of the Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, and her red shoes, a detail that puts her in the role of Dorothy, who escapes reality, but comes back to it eventually, by clicking her ruby slippers three times, she comes out into the light stronger and more fearless than ever.  She has confirmed her role in the adult world, and the life that awaits her in that unknown and cruel world, doesn’t scare her at all. She has faced the monster and lived to tell the tale. She is the Final Girl.

 

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