Ten Women Who Defined and Evolved Horror’s Final Girl Trope

2. Max Cartwright – The Final Girls (2015)

Max (Taissa Farmiga) is your typical, perhaps at this point cliché final girl.

When Max and her friends get stuck inside the 80s slasher, Camp Bloodbath, the film her mother Amanda (Malin Ackerman) is famous for having sex and dying in, and are forced to appoint a new final girl after the film’s final girl dies in a twist of fate, Max is the perfect choice. She is chosen not for her smarts or her compassion, but simply because she’s a virgin. If Sidney exists to break genre tropes, Max exists to remind us how incredibly limiting they are – especially for women.

The film makes us wonder, why can’t any of the other girls be final girls? Why should they be punished for having sex?

When Max is mortally wounded, Nancy, the character played by her mother, sacrifices herself so Max can save the day. Max reminds us that in slashers, only one rule can’t be broken: in the end, only one girl gets to live.

Although being the final girl always comes with a cost, Max’s arc is emotionally satisfying. In finally letting her mother go, Max does more than just survive – she learns how to live again.

1. Tree Gelman – Happy Death Day (2017)

We’ve seen final girls go from screaming and running, to taking back the night. They’ve evolved from stereotypical good girls to complex and enduring horror and action stars. Tree Gelbman (Jessica Roth) manages to take this all a step further, asking audiences: what happens if the bad girl survived the horror film?

Regarding Tree as a character, writer Scott Lobdell says that, “Every slasher film opens up with the mean girl getting killed and the good girl living ‘till the end. And I thought, ‘How can I make the mean girl and the good girl the same person?’”

In the beginning, Tree is pretty awful. She continuously ignores her father, has an affair with her married professor, and has a general bad attitude. What’s great about Tree as our main character and eventual final girl is that she forces the audiences to relate to, and eventually root for, a complicated woman who isn’t always nice, moral, and good. In a lot of ways, she’s the exact opposite of the classic final girl.

Tree is the main target of the killer from the very beginning. For her, there’s nowhere to hide. There isn’t a body count – there’s just her and the killer. Over the course of Happy Death Day, Tree becomes a hero and evolves into a better person. She learns how to be vulnerable again, kicks ass, and finds a way to reconnect with her father. Although Tree does face the consequences of her actions, she is ultimately redeemed. In the end, she isn’t punished for who she is. Instead, she’s rewarded with a second chance.

The sequel to Happy Death Day, Happy Death Day 2U was released in 2019, and a third instalment of the franchise is currently in development. Tree may very well be our next horror icon, a final girl who stands the test of time; a final girl who stands on the shoulders of the women who came before her, ready to inspire the next generation of scream queens.

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Has the evolution of the final girl trope done enough to better represent women in film? Are there any classic horror movie final girls we’ve missed off the list? Who’s your favourite? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow The Film Magazine on Facebook and Twitter.

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