Horror films serve as an exploration of our innermost boundaries and fears, both psychologically and physically. Not only on a personal and individual level but, also within our culture. But then, after an hour or so, the ending credits roll and that fleeting fear is gone. Portraying that horror is the only cinematic genre where the viewer anticipates that the majority of the introduced characters to die a brutal or creative death before the finale. All characters except, the Final Girl.
The definition of the final girl is a heroine left standing after defeating the bad guy (either intentionally or with the help of external forces) and escapes to carry on living a ‘normal’ life – until the sequence. The late 1980s onwards gave rise to the slasher genre and in turn, the notion of the final girl. These slasher movies however are more subverted in the modern day and we are beginning to move away from the static role of the pure, virginal final girl who is rewarded for these traits. Some elements of the sub-genre remain, however, in the cultural conversation. The Final Girl is still prevalent and the sole survivor of the slasher’s rampage. A mass of characters is introduced yet, all maintain some sort of unlikable or very identifiable trait which is their entire character and sets up their order to be picked off one by one. The final girl previously was made to be kind to the point of naivety and rejects all types of ‘sinful’ indulgences that her friends usually revel in. The audience is then in turn meant to see her survival as morally right and we are rooting for it since she doesn’t have sex or do drugs. She’s rewarded with prolonged survival.
The final girl isn’t typically a feminist concept. It often reinforces a puritan and moral dichotomy in which innocence is the only good, and all those who dare sin are punished for it by being killed- usually brutally. However, we cannot disregard that ‘The Final Girl’ does put women in the lead role of an ostensibly male-orientated genre where they usually would be just a supporting role for the leading man acting almost like a cheerleader just there to say ‘good job!’ A recent movie, however, subverts and feels a step in a different direction is Ti West’s X and Pearl both centre a woman, one a victim and one a perpetrator. In X the women find empowerment in and advocate for consensual sex work and evolving past the ethical implications of sex and sin. The “innocent” figure who, in a different version of the story, had a higher chance of being the sole survivor because of her relative lack of sin. Yet, Maxine is an unapologetic hero, subverting expectations (also giving us amazing Halloween costumes).
Though it sparks many debates about its credentials and feminism, many audiences love to see who will be the lone woman survivor and how they will accomplish this. It’s unlikely this trope will be going away any time soon and horror fans will have to wait and see how these new leading ladies handle being the one and only survivor.