99 Percent SaviorIn Contemporary Horror, It’s the Final Girl versus the Rich

Samara Weaving as Grace in Ready or Not (Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

The Final Girl, a term coined by film theorist Carol J. Clover in her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, is the virginal female character who populated 1970s and ’80s slasher films. Halloween’s Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Nightmare On Elm Street’s Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), and Alien’s Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) are among the big-screen sole survivors of serial killers and other monsters. The Final Girl watches as her friends die increasingly horrific deaths, and must resort to escalating violence to save herself—in the process becoming more and more like the terrifying figure she’s trying to escape. Clover theorized that the role of the Final Girl is palatable for male viewers who can project themselves onto her image: She’s often a tomboy; she’s relatable and empathetic; and she maintains her distance from the sexual encounters that inevitably spell disaster for her female friends.

This Final Girl has enjoyed a long life in both slasher movies and the meta-horror movies that smartly parody them. The past decade, however, has birthed a new iteration of the familiar trope, one who fights a different kind of monster. Hiding behind iron fences, ornate iron doors, and stacks of cash, the monsters of contemporary horror movies are ultra-wealthy, flesh-and-blood humans who tap into satanic powers to maintain their power, youth, and money. The Final Girl is no longer a babysitter or camp counselor, but a working-class outsider to wealth and decadence who is treated as an exploitable object to be lured in with money. And she’s not wrestling with masked serial killers or dream-haunting ghouls; instead, she’s infiltrating massive estates and attempting to singlehandedly bring down those in power.

Like her predecessors, this new Final Girl is subjected to increasingly more horrifying physical and psychological torment, her body becoming a spectacle as she battles the evil around her. She’s torn apart and bloodied, transformed into something almost unrecognizable, but her injuries are merely physical reminders of the pain the rich continually inflict on the poor. In films like You’re Next, Ready or Not, and Satanic Panic, these women become martyrs of a bigger, uglier message about the 1 percent. And both her pain and endurance provide a catharsis for viewers’ anger at systems of power fueled by wealth and greed.

1. YOU’RE NEXT

You're Next Official Trailer #1 (2013) - Horror Movie HD

{ Lionsgate }
Release Date: August 23, 2013

In Adam Wingard’s 2013 horror film, Erin (Sharni Vinson) accompanies her boyfriend to his parents’ 35th anniversary at their beautiful country home. Their simple weekend trip quickly turns bloody as assassins begin picking off the family one by one. The assassins’ motives are initially unclear, but Erin is prepared regardless. She was raised on a survivalist compound in Australia and can kill a person in 1,000 different ways. She keeps her skills a secret until she learns that the family’s eldest son orchestrated the murders in order to inherit the entire family fortune—and that her boyfriend is in on the plan.

Erin becomes a pawn in this demented game of murderous greed: She stabs, shoots, and rips her way through wealthy selfishness, fighting for her life while confronting a boyfriend who sees her as an expendable pawn in his quest to become even wealthier. Though she’s successful in fighting back more ferociously than those hunting her, outsmarting the wealthy is ultimately a futile effort: At the film’s end, she’s arrested for murdering her boyfriend.

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2. READY OR NOT

READY OR NOT | Red Band Trailer [HD] | FOX Searchlight

{ Walt Disney Studios }
Release Date: August 21, 2019

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Ready or Not turns You’re Next’s plot upside down: Grace (Samara Weaving) is parentless and has bounced around foster homes since childhood, so marrying into the Le Domas family, who accrued a large fortune from gaming, is a dream come true. She can’t wait to finally have a family to call her own, but this particular family wants to spend an evening playing a sick game of hide and seek—part of a longstanding ritual in which new members of the family are sacrificed to ensure the survival of the Le Domas name. 

Grace has next-level survival instincts: She hides in walls, rips up her wedding dress, and is willing to give herself a few scratches if a little pain will ultimately help her survive. Each death of a Le Domas family member feels like an exciting and triumphant victory for Grace: She turns their weapons against them, makes their house dangerous, and invades their space. Grace foils their ritual and destroys a corporate entity in a single night.

3. SATANIC PANIC

SATANIC PANIC Official Trailer (2019) Comedy Horror Movie

{ RLJE Films }
Release Date: September 6, 2019

Chelsea Stardust’s 2019 film looks at the demonic lengths the affluent go to in order to maintain their status. On her first day as a pizza-delivery driver, Sam (Hayley Griffith) heads to a home on a wealthier side of town. When the customer stiffs her, she knocks on the door and ends up inside the massive house, where she soon becomes its residents’ virgin sacrifice, who in death will provide them even more wealth and power. Sam’s naiveté makes her a target, but a fighter lies beneath her innocence, and she is able to manipulate the resources of the wealthy—from the coven leader’s daughter to assorted demons—to her advantage. The coven’s members prove to be the naive ones in assuming that their money, beauty, and material belongings make them superior to Sam and people like her.

Whether she’s wearing a torn-up wedding dress like Grace, is a trained badass like Erin, or is a pizza girl just trying to get paid like Sam, the Final Girl has become a newly relatable figure in modern horror. She’s fighting for more than survival; she’s fighting for what she perceives as just and right. Today’s Final Girl is challenging those in power—and using their tools to dismantle their massive mansions.

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by Mary Beth McAndrews
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Freelance writer with a love of all things horror