In several posts both here and at Horror Movie A Day, I've described my dilemma with slasher movies, in that I love them above all other sub-genres but will also be the first to admit that they suffer from a lot of repetition and lack of new ideas. This weariness doesn't kill much of my enjoyment whenever I see a new one (provided it's actually proficient in what it's doing), but it makes me all the more excited to see something fresh, and makes its flaws easier for me to accept or ignore whereas others might not be as endeared. So when I tell you how much I liked Last Girl Standing, please consider the aforementioned approach I take to these "outside the box" types, because it's possible you'll end up disliking it for the very reasons I enjoyed it so much.
It should be noted straight away that the film is listed as a Drama first on IMDb, and Horror second - that distinction is important, because despite the title and slasher-centric plot, it really is more of a character piece than a body count flick. Our protagonist, Camryn (Akasha Villalobos) is the lone survivor of a massacre perpetrated by a masked killer known as The Hunter, who she seemingly killed after he laid waste to all of her friends in the woods. If that SOUNDS like a slasher movie you've seen, that's precisely the point - the film opens in media res, basically showing us the end of that hypothetical movie, offering enough details to let our minds fill in all the blanks of the part we didn't see, i.e. a bunch of friends arriving in the woods, splitting off to have sex, and getting killed one by one. The Hunter's mask is an original one that COULD be the centerpiece of some '80s slasher (it's a mangled animal fur mask with antlers - very creepy/cool), but we only see it in action for a few minutes in this prologue, before moving on to the real meat of the story - what happens next?
I've seen a somewhat similar approach before, in a movie called No One Lives, which showed what exactly a killer wanted to do with the obligatory Final Girl once he got her. This movie doesn't get as wacky as that one though; as you could imagine, Camryn is left pretty shell-shocked and detached as a result of losing all her friends; even now, a few years later, she still keeps to herself and lives a depressing life of solitude in her minimalist, largely unpacked apartment. "Did you just move in?", a new friend asks at one point, observing the moving boxes stacked by the door and pictures still on the floor instead of hung on the walls. "Four years ago," Camryn replies. However all that changes when she meets Nick, a new guy at the dry cleaning place where she works, as he takes a liking to her almost instantly and slowly gets her out of her shell a bit. As he is played by Brian Villalobos, Akasha's real life husband, the chemistry is infectious, and you really start to pull for these two to work it out.
Alas, right around the same time, she starts seeing The Hunter again, sometimes it's obviously just a hallucination, other times - like an attack at the laundromat after hours - it seems like it could be real. Is The Hunter back from the dead? Has someone taken his place? Is Nick just pulling a Billy Loomis on her? I remind you, the film may ACT like a sequel to a slasher movie, but it isn't really one, and thus writer/director Ben Moody is under no obligation to kill off his "new" cast and live up to his "classic original". Halloween II, Scream 2, etc. all had to cater to the expectations of the sub-genre, but this is exempt from any such criteria, and thus if the movie ends with a zero body count, that is OK! No one promised otherwise! The strength of the film comes from the "is she crazy or is he really back?" question, not from the creativity of the kills or how well directed this or that chase scene was. It uses the slasher language, but it is not technically a slasher movie.
This is another area that thrilled me, as a slasher fan, because while "emotionally scarred survivor" is nothing new for the sub-genre (H20, for example), the psychological element always has to take a backseat to the guy in the mask killing people, because that's what people came for. Even something that goes a little further with it, like Friday the 13th Part V, which toys with the idea that Tommy is so troubled by his ordeal that he has taken Jason's place, still has to cater to the necessity of offing someone every 5-10 minutes, rather than focus on his plight. So it's great to see how it truly affects someone on a day to day basis, beyond a quick bit of catch-up before she's either killed (Alice in Friday the 13th Part 2) or roped back into the usual game (Sid in Scream 3, living a life of isolation before murders start up again and she gets over it). I mentioned not unpacking for years, but she also can barely look people in the eye, channel surfs in a daze, watches the microwave cook her frozen meals because she has nothing better to do, etc. She's alive, but not living, so to speak. It's not a sequel, but if you want to imagine the survivor from any standalone slasher (or Friday sequel heroine that never got mentioned again, like Ginny or Chris) in the same predicament, it's easy enough to do so*, and it's fairly heartbreaking to imagine surviving but living like this after - would it have been better to just die?
Less appealing to me was the film's almost oppressive Austin-ness, which kind of throws off the whole "pretend this is what happened after a generic slasher" approach. Nothing wrong with local color (or Austin, for that matter - we're obviously fans), but the climax is set in a goddamn art collective studio, for Christ's sake - it starts to feel a little too specific and personalized, killing the all-purpose feel that was key to its success. There are also one or two too many laundromat scenes; apart from Nick, the other people who work there disappear after about the halfway point, so that time could have been spent further developing him and his friends (one of whom, Danielle, gets very sisterly toward Camryn, a relationship as sweet as the love one between Camryn and Nick). Luckily, the actors are solid and believable (I didn't recognize anyone, always a plus with this kind of thing) without being stereotypes - no "jock" or "nerd" or whatever (though there is a bitchy character who hates Camryn instantly and mocks her at every opportunity - think Melissa from F13: The New Blood), just a genuine group of friends who aren't betraying one another for no reason.
Ultimately, your appreciation of the film will depend on how much you love the concept of slashers and how much you equally love the idea of playing with their conventions and traditions. It's a slow burn and I'm sure more than one person will walk away saying "I would have rather watched the part they skipped over", but I've seen that movie a dozen times or more. I'd much rather see something a little different, because I know it's not going to forever alter the landscape - there will be another movie exactly like the one Moody didn't think we needed to see in full, and I'll probably enjoy that one too. But as with No One Lives (or Red Velvet, another indie that requires both patience and a general affinity for this kind of film to work as intended), the breath of fresh air is much appreciated, and I encourage my fellow slasher maniacs to give it a shot (it's available now on VOD and DVD, so just poke around your service of choice to find it). And someone get me a damn Hunter action figure!
*The brief snippet we see of the "Part 1" section lets us know that the group of victims was apparently a track team, so you can dig deep and pretend it's Anne from Graduation Day, like I did.