Last Girl Standing is the latest in a series of slasher films that turn the genre on its bloody head. This trend has been somewhat exhausted in recent years, with not one, but two films in 2015 riffing on the idea of a “final girl” (Final Girl and The Final Girls; really?). The dissection of this trope doesn’t need any more vivisection than it has already received. Why, then, does Last Girl Standing work so damn well?
The film follows a “final girl,” Camryn (Akasha Villalobos), who is adjusting to life after living through a horrifying massacre. The opening scene is her reoccurring nightmare of the bloodbath on the night of her trauma, from which she wakes every night in a cold sweat. Her life is a solitary one. She works at a laundromat and doesn’t interact with anyone besides the new hire, Nick (Brian Villalobos), who has taken an interest in her. As her relationship with Nick deepens, she finds herself out of her comfort zone with a new group of friends. If this doesn’t sound like a typical horror movie, it’s because this film is something decidedly more rooted in the tone of an independent drama.
Director and writer Benjamin R. Moody opts for a more grounded, character-driven movie that doesn’t show its horror roots outside of a few brief sequences. The movie is, for the most part, an earnest look at the aftermath of trauma and how it follows those who have been traumatized. For Camryn, it feels as though the sharp end of the knife is around every corner, waiting for the moment she isn’t looking. Her daily life is filmed solely from her perspective (there’s hardly a scene here where she isn’t on screen), following her closely to support the constant tension of her life.
This laser-focus on Camryn does hurt the film in some aspects. The pacing tends to drag in spots, never becoming fully boring but sometimes becoming rote. The only depth the side characters are given is through their interaction with Camryn, which makes it difficult to care much for them. Always pulling the film back, however, is Akasha Villalobos, who confidently leads the movie from beginning to end. The twists of the character ask a lot of Villalobos, and she pulls it off beautifully.
Last Girl Standing will surely turn off some viewers with its deliberate tone and extreme (although brief) violence, but those who have found themselves bored by the irony or cynicism of the horror genre lately will find much to enjoy here. Absent is the winking at the camera, the contempt for the audience and the joyless execution of the killing scenes. This movie takes itself and the audience seriously, and it’s a refreshing change.