The happy ending of many horror movies, especially slashers, is that the one last main character (usually teen, female, conventionally attractive) walks away bruised and bloodied but alive while the killer dies a horrifically fitting death, often at the hands of the survivor. This happens so frequently, this character trope has a name: the final girl. It’s a victorious moment, but one that typically ignores the trauma that accompanies the ordeal and the surviving of it. While there are exceptions (I see you, Halloween, Fear Street trilogy, etc.), that lack of attention gets a spotlight in Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group.
The Final Girl Support Group follows Lynnette, a once-teen survivor of not one but two heinous murders that left her scarred inside and out, and whose descent into middle age is marked with extreme paranoia and relationships that begin and end with a potted plant—and a support group of other “final girls.” For the last fifteen years, these six women and their high-profile therapist have met weekly, trying to work through their respective trauma, with variable results. But fifteen years seems to be long enough for some group members, and when some suggest disbanding the group, Lynnette finds her world spinning out of control—though that’s nothing compared to the chaos that unfolds when someone shoots into Lynnette’s apartment. Lynnette’s top-secret apartment, whose location she has taken great pains to conceal from everyone, so the attack suggests a larger invasion of privacy.
Lynette goes on the run, only to find every other member of the group has been similarly targeted. She seeks help from the group’s therapist, but clue by clue lays a trail of betrayal coming from her therapist. After a brief arrest and the reappearance of an old friend and foe, Lynette takes a newly minted final girl, Samantha, and the two hit the road in search of the rest of the conspiracy to take out the titular support group. But like any conspiracy, this one goes deep, and Lynnette has to confront the person she was and who she’s become if she wants to survive this plot.
Hendrix has penned other love letters to horror, including last year’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, which I enjoyed but had a whole lot of Thoughts about. Final Girl, though, is as much about trauma as it is the slasher genre. The story is sprinkled with winks and nods to various tropes, starting with the final girl and spiraling out from there. The tropiness of those elements is only magnified in the way each member of the support group (and beyond) has dealt with her trauma: Lynette becomes a paranoid prepper, while another member aggressively seeks normalcy, and yet another’s life falls completely apart. Determining who is the weakest and strongest among the group is dependent entirely upon the kind of test or pressure each is given as the plot progresses. Lynnette, as our main character, has a certain amount of plot armor in the accidental quest to be the “final girl of the final girls,” but she often makes bad decisions and isn’t always likable. That’s a bit of a relief in a genre that often kills off those with too-traumatic backgrounds or is otherwise not attractively troubled.
(An interesting aside, on the topic of final girls and the genre’s insistence that their survivors be just so: Hendrix lists Stephen Graham Jones in the acknowledgements of this July release; Jones also has a love letter to the slasher genre coming out later this month, this one focused particularly on the obsession of perfection within the final girl trope, and names Hendrix in his acknowledgement section. Apparently, the horror genre is a tight-knit one.)
Much of my disagreement with parts of Book Club have to do with falling back on tropes centered on sexual assault and associated trauma; perhaps because this is a different subgenre or that there simply wasn’t the opportunity for it, Final Girls more or less lacks that kind of troubling content (though there’s certainly enough violence of other types). The end feels a little Pollyanna, which perhaps is yet another nod to the aforementioned trouble with slashers assuming survival equates a happily ending. For honoring yet another trope, I’ll let it pass.