Features and Columns · Movies

Clever Girls: The Evolution of the Final Girl Trope

It ain’t over till it’s over.
Midsommar Smile Final Girl trope
By  · Published on October 30th, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a montage of the evolution of the final girl.

Final girls are as essential to horror as slasher villains and jump scares. But their legacy is a complicated one, to say the least. Final girls carry a lot of damage. And I don’t just mean a stray knife slash here and there.

Coined by Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws, the “final girl” trope refers to the last woman standing at the end of a bloodbath who escapes and sometimes vanquishes her would-be killer. Even in the many incarnations since the trope’s first bonafide appearance in 1970s slashers, a number of troubling through-lines persist to this day.

It’s true that disproportionally women are vessels for much of the world’s violence. But the expectation that victimhood is a singularly feminine burden exposes a less empathetic angle. Namely, that audiences will not identify with men in similar peril. That a virginal man cowering in a closet fumbling tearfully with a defensive coat hanger just isn’t someone audiences can root for.

Which is to say nothing of the fact that even the most subversive final girls are overwhelmingly white. That even when ostensibly metacritical films like Midsommar and Scream 2 challenge traditional character structures, Black survival is not guaranteed.

While all of this sounds like a colossal bummer, as the video essay below emphasizes, knowing the history of the trope is important, and slowly but surely, things are changing. The movement of “social horror” is gaining more traction. And with that, the final girl is steadily shifting towards a more intersectional view of peril, victimhood, and what it takes to survive.

Watch “The Final Girl Trope, Explained“:

Who made this?

This video comes courtesy of The Take (formerly ScreenPrism), a channel dedicated to analyzing film, television, and pop culture. They specialize in the “ending explained” genre of video essays. They also have a sizeable library of character studies, director profiles, and symbol breakdowns. You can check out their YouTube account here. You can also follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).