READY OR NOT & The Bloody Remains Of The Final Girl Trope

When Grace Le Domas (Samara Weaving) steps onto screen in Ready or Not, she resembles the quintessential Final Girl of the ‘70s and ‘80s. She is thin, well-dressed – in white, no less! – and gorgeous.

She is, in other words, the type of girl you’d happily bring home to your family. Or, if you’re Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), the kind of girl you’d very begrudgingly bring home to your family. Your psychopathic, tradition-toting family.

The Le Domas’ seems like your average upper-class white household. But beneath the veneer of the family’s self-made gaming empire, there lingers a dark curse. That curse necessitates the indulgence of a game night any time a new person marries into the family. Game night can be harmless and recreational (an evening of checkers, maybe), or it can be an incredibly deadly match of hide and seek. The price of losing that particular game is steeper than some wounded pride.

For Grace, “game night” involves a body count – one that she, the newlywed and player of honor, does not belong to. Her husband, though, and his entire privilege-laden family? Yeah. They’re dead.

Ready or Not, here (she!) comes

Unlike the body counts of most horror movies, the fallen in Ready or Not are not intended to inspire sympathy from the audience (barring, perhaps, the penitent Daniel Le Domas (Adam Brody), who acts as a counterpoint for the rest of the Le Domas’). The victims are not hapless teenagers taking an unexpected cross-country roadtrip. They are murderous one-percenters disguising their bloodlust with a convenient family myth.

By the end of the film’s hour-and-a-half runtime, even Alex, the most apparently regretful Le Domas of them all, has lost pity for his new wife Grace and her unfortunate role in his family’s tradition. He seems to not only succumb to his family’s killer ways, but to revel in them. That transformation is pivotal to the film as well as Grace’s mental state. Throughout the film, Grace condemns the Le Domas’ and the privilege they embody. By the end of her night from hell, her husband belongs in that category of condemned. And when he literally explodes right before her eyes, Grace does not flinch. She smiles.

READY OR NOT & The Bloody Remains Of The Final Girl Trope
Ready or Not (2019) – source: Searchlight Pictures

This is because Grace, too, has shifted. Her heart has hardened to the game played around her. She has dropped the guise of the victim – which, let’s be honest, she has every right to be – and has become the hunter. It’s refreshing. The audience can find pleasure in payback as Grace gains her footing and fights back. (It doesn’t hurt that Samara Weaving is phenomenal in this. Those primal screams!) We can cheer as she trudges away from the Le Domas house come morning, blood-soaked and disillusioned. She may be scarred, but she’s alive, and she has earned her place in the exalted realm of final girls.

But Grace, a picture-perfect final girl on the outside, differs dramatically from horror’s most famous scream queens in several important ways. She is not the quiet, bookish type, constantly running from her attacker (à la Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween (1978), or maybe Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) of Texas Chain Saw Massacre infamy), nor is she the penitent virgin. She is snarky and crass. And when the guns come out, she takes no time to contemplate the moral quandary of killing for self-defense.

READY OR NOT & The Bloody Remains Of The Final Girl Trope
Ready or Not (2019) – source: Searchlight Pictures

When Grace sees herself in the mirror midway through the film – wearing her torn, bloodied wedding dress, shotgun in hand – she says what Ready or Not really wants its audience to be thinking. “Jesus.” Much like horror is wont, Ready or Not is remarkably in-your-face about the plot’s wild progression – or, disintegration, rather. But the magic of what this film represents for women in horror, and the final girl trope in general, goes far beyond showy displays like these. It’s in the unsaid that Grace Le Domas’ character represents the strides horror has made.

Grace is fighting back, yes, and she gets dirty. Even more remarkable, though, is the fact that this final girl has not watched, terrified, as her fellow victims and friends die off one-by-one; She has either killed them herself or laughed in glee as they explode right in front of her. She is the quintessential blood-soaked final girl, but that blood does not belong to her friends; it is the blood of her enemies.

Where it all began

The somewhat unflinching reception of this new brand of final girl has roots in slashers of the ‘90s, which saw female leads like Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) fight to take back their agency from myriad masked killers. Scream was a revelation for the mainstream horror genre not only because it laid bare the “rules” of horror, but because it introduced a new kind of final girl. The Final Girl of the ‘90s was self-aware, pissed off and armed, much like Grace Le Domas would be nearly three decades later.

READY OR NOT & The Bloody Remains Of The Final Girl Trope
Scream (1996) – source: Dimension Films

Horror of the ‘70s and ‘80s rarely focused so carefully on its final girls pre-tragedy. Instead, viewers were left to ostensibly cheer for the uber-evil, often inherently motivation-less villain (see just about any installment of the Friday the Thirteenth franchise, which features gaggling teens so dumb and irrelevant they’re nearly impossible to feel sorry for).

Films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer flipped the script by imbuing the lives of female leads with tragedy, thereby shifting “the site of horror” from the events of the film to the protagonist’s trauma. Although Sidney Prescott is terrorized by a new Ghostface in each successive film, the tragedy of her mother’s brutal murder remains steadfast throughout the series. Storylines like these were remarkable in that they characterized previously faceless victims and provided depth to a genre that has historically thrived on pulp alone.

Slashers of the ‘90s were products of third-wave feminism (as orchestrated by the Riot Grrl or Girl Power movement – take your pick), which helped some viewers enjoy the successes of a scream queen who knew how to brandish a gun.

Of course, horror of the ‘90s and early 2000s did not completely lose its shine to victimized women. The majority of films still adopted the traditional narrative of hunted kids being picked off one by one, with final girls – or, final subjects, in a select few cases – completely lacking the agency to stop the carnage around them.

But there is something to be said about the relative popularity of films that did break this mold. Scream is the second highest-grossing slasher film of all time. (Scream 2 and Scream 3 are third and fourth, respectively.) Viewers were clamoring to see more Sidney Prescotts. In the 2000s and beyond, Hollywood answered.

The new final girl

The past decade alone has seen films like You’re Next, The Final Girls and Cabin in the Woods move from the bounds of campy meta to mainstream horror. Importantly, each of these films features a non-traditional final girl; that is, one who either fights back unexpectedly, knows more than she should, or generally acts outside the established bounds of ‘70s and ‘80s horror survivalism.

Maybe the trope’s slow progress from “final victim” to “final survivor” is best summarized by the progress achieved inside one of the most lucrative slasher franchises of all time. In 1978, Halloween became one of the most financially successful independent movies ever made and jump-started John Carpenter’s career as a Master of Horror.

In Halloween (1978), Laurie Strode plays the picture-perfect final girl of yesteryear. She is reserved, introspective and playfully derisive of her friends’ comparably wild habits. She’s also very good at screaming and hiding in closets – two very important characteristics for a pedigreed final girl.

READY OR NOT & The Bloody Remains Of The Final Girl Trope
Halloween (2018) – source: Universal Pictures

Forty years later, Halloween (2018) smashed into box offices and became the highest-grossing slasher flick of all time. In this updated version of (and direct sequel to) Laurie’s first encounter with Michael Myers, Allyson Strode – Laurie’s granddaughter – becomes Michael’s target. Despite this, it is Laurie’s dangerous link with Michael that remains center stage. She is well aware of the fact that Michael will come back for her. And she is prepared.

In Halloween (2018)’s climax, Laurie is not the one left screaming in the dark. It’s Michael’s turn to be terrified. The film refreshingly adapts Laurie’s character to a new generation of fast-talking, gun-toting, angry final girls.

Final girls like Grace Le Domas, who concludes Ready or Not by calmly smoking on the front step of a manor going down in flames, though she has every right to be incalculably traumatized, screaming, perhaps raving, as she is shoved into the back of a cop car. No longer do these final girls owe us their heartbreak. Instead of feeling sorry for them, we can feel triumphant in their victory.

What other changes have you noticed in the final girl trope, or even in horror overall? Do you think these changes are for the better?

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