Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Death of the Final Girl

In case you hadn't noticed, I'm really quite fond of Ellen Ripley, and the first Alien film in particular. Another thing that you might have noticed is that I love discussing the Final Girl concept. But one thing I haven't yet mentioned is my (relatively) newfound love for the Norwegian horror/slasher franchise Cold Prey. And within the space of one week I have watched the last, and allegedly final instalment of the Cold Prey series and Alien: Resurrection (1997), so what could be more natural than to take some time to discuss the role of the Final Girl in these two films?

First of all though, a bit of background on the Cold Prey series. The first two films are traditional "make one film, then a sequel" stuff: the second film follows right where the first one left off, so it hasn't moved far in time or geographically speaking, and the Final Girl from the first film relives the nightmare in the sequel. But where the original is bleak and slightly Shining-esque (with more blood and screaming), the sequel is more purely slasher-action, and so many purists and occasional horror watchers uphold the original as the better of the two. I think they complete each other and I've only watched them in one go which works perfectly. The Final Girl in these two films, Jannicke, is what really makes them work so well. She is actually very sympathetic, as opposed to hordes of other Final Girls. She is clever (medical student), beautiful, caring, strong in every sense of the word, but most of all she is thoroughly human.

Jannicke always reminded me of Ripley, in more than one way. Maybe it is fitting, then, that in both CP3 and A:R the Final Girls are changed. CP3 is a prequel – different actress, different story, different character (even though it is a prequel, I will still treat it as what it is: the last of three films). Sure Sigourney Weaver still plays "Ripley" in A:R, but it isn't really Ripley. It is her clone. Her 8th clone, to be precise. How much needs to be said about the earlier clones, in this context? Not necessarily much. If No. 8 is seen as embodiment of the ideal Final Girl (physically strong; maintaining a cool, ironic distance to what is happening around her; complex knowledge of her enemy, to which she is yet strangely drawn; much smarter than everyone surrounding her, etc.) then clones 1-7 are what have gone before her. Failed experiments; the clones are either too much like an alien and too little like a human, or too much like a little baby and not enough like a grown creature. The last of the previous clones even begs No. 8 to kill her. Clones 1-7 are outdated, imperfect representations of Final Girls. They are Sally, Nancy, Laurie, Stretch, Alice and all of the others.

The Final Girl in CP3, Hedda, is mostly just annoying. But she possesses some of the ideal Final Girl skills or characteristics as lined out by No. 8 in A:R: she understands more than anyone else, she can endure more and accomplish more, she can run for longer and hide better, she can keep others (barely) alive, she doesn't think twice about pulling the head of an arrow out through her boyfriend's shoulder when she is convinced that it will save him, or indeed about setting fire to a house in which she and her boyfriend are hiding from the killer as long as she is convinced that the fire will kill the Big Bad and they will be able to escape. She finds her kidnapped and tortured friends and attempts to save them. She's a bit like a female MacGyver, which in itself is not a bad thing, but not really something that belongs in a horror movie. It isn't something that brings the audience to the edge of their seats in the same way as a normal girl with more human characteristics might have. It has been said many times by several critics that the killers in these films are not (entirely) human, and it looks as if the Final Girls are trying to catch up. No. 8's very blood is of a superhuman nature, and it is stressed again and again how she is not like us. But where does that lead us? Two creatures with superhuman powers and a lack of human trademarks such as doubt, regret, empathy, forever locked in an impossible battle where no one can win and no one can die? Has the evolution of the Final Girl, which was praised by many when it moved on from Sally (passive resistance) to Laurie (active resistance) to Nancy (actively seeking the killer to set things right), been allowed to run on for too long, and spiral out of control? If she is not someone that we the audience can identify with and feel for and root for, is there any point to her at all?

Of course, Hedda's status as a Final Girl could easily be up for discussion. She does after all die, which is more or less the one thing that a Final Girl just doesn't do. But you see, she isn't killed by The Killer, rather she is accidentally shot by a policeman who thinks she's trying to shoot him. Anyway, the point is she isn't one of the victims of the actual killer, strictly speaking; so in my book she still counts as Final Girl. Besides, Ripley dies as well, remember? She is not directly killed by one of the aliens, but kills herself and it in the process. So they both die because of their enemies, but not by their hand. It is far more human instincts that get them both killed in the end, and we're back to human vs. superhuman.

So I guess my main point is this: the Final Girl needs to be human. She can't be someone who is "better" than us, or the whole point of her disappears. The original Final Girls are completely normal (and maybe not even sympathetic or likeable, because many humans aren't) and that's why it is exciting to see what happens to them and how they make it through so many horrible incidents. It is why we can identify, and it is ultimately what makes a horror film into what it is: a scary movie.

PS: I was going to discuss how in A:R they have a "Father" whereas in Alien they have a "Mother", but I couldn't really think of anything interesting to say that wouldn't have been horribly longwinded. Any thoughts on this, or anything else, feel free to leave a comment below.