Book Review: Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
By Angie BarryJuly 14, 2021
Lynette belongs to an exclusive club.
To join, it’s pretty straightforward: everyone around you just has to die. You have to outlast the psychotic maniac. Survive your grievous wounds. And then you have to do it again.
She’s what society calls a Final Girl.
You’re watching a horror movie and the silent killer knocks off the stoner, the slut, the jock, and the deputy, and now he’s chasing the virgin babysitter through the woods. The killer’s got a chainsaw/boat hook/butcher’s knife and this girl’s got zip: no upper body strength, no mass, no shotgun. All she’s got is good cardio and an all-American face. Yet somehow she kills the killer, then stares numbly into the middle distance, or collapses into the arms of the arriving police, or runs crying to her boyfriend, makes one last quip, lights one last cigarette, asks a final haunting question, gets taken off in an ambulance screaming and screaming like she’s never going to stop.
Ever wonder what happens to those final girls?
I know what happens to those girls. After the movie deals get signed, after the film franchise fails. …After you realize that the only interesting thing that’ll ever happen to you happened when you were sixteen, after you stop going outside, after you start browsing locksmiths the way other women browse the windows of Tiffany’s, after all that happens you wind up where I’m going today: in a church basement in Burbank, seated with your back to the wall, trying to hold the pieces of your life together.
We’re an endangered species, for which I’m grateful. There are only six of us still around. It used to make me sad there weren’t more of us out there, but we were creatures of the eighties and the world has moved on.
Lynette and the other Final Girls—Adrienne, Dani, Marilyn, Julia, and Heather—are all middle-aged now. Their bloody stories, and the monsters they outlived, are instantly recognizable for any horror fans in the audience. There’s the camp counselor and the babysitter. One was attacked by inbred redneck cannibals, and another fought off the nightmarish Dream King. A boyfriend and his best friend, fueled by an obsessive love of horror movies, decided to make one into their own Final Girl, and the last suffered through the worst Christmas imaginable.
They survived, but the physical and emotional scars linger. They’ve turned to drugs and alcohol and extreme prepping to cope. They’re saddled with PTSD and steel plates. In Lynette’s case, it sometimes feels as though the only thing that keeps her going is their monthly support group.
But after sixteen years, cracks have formed in the once tight-knit group. Their meetings quickly devolve into senseless bickering, and talk begins of ending the sessions for good.
Then one of them is murdered, and campers at the Camp Red Lake retreat are massacred in an awful repeat of history. Soon, it becomes obvious that the others in the support group are being targeted in a coordinated series of strikes—and Lynette is determined, desperate, to stop this new monster from racking up a higher kill count.
Who’s coming for us? A fan? That has to be it. The monsters in our lives are as particular about their final girls as people are about their Starbucks order. African American nonfat camp counselor with high threshold for pain and an extra shot. A double soy lesbian babysitter who’s not afraid to stab someone in the eye, hold the foam.
Grady Hendrix has built a solid reputation for himself in the horror genre for blending gallows humor, pop culture references, and solid characters with visceral violence and genuine chills. The Final Girl Support Group is yet another stellar entry in his bibliography.
Every slasher film archetype and trope is featured here, and it’s great fun figuring out which Final Girl belongs to which franchise and how Hendrix will put his own spin on things. Chapters focused on the primary plot are interspersed with snippets of interviews, police reports, psychological assessments, and magazine essays critiquing the film franchises inspired by each Final Girl, adding layers of color and depth to the story.
Hendrix is that rare male author who does a phenomenal job writing female characters that feel truly real. We spend the bulk of the story in Lynette’s head, and it’s not always a comfortable place to be, but it is always authentic. Peppered throughout her narrative and blood-soaked trials is plenty of commentary on the evils of misogyny and the dangerous reality of existing in a world where violence against women is so normalized as to be expected, where it’s even turned into entertainment. And all of it is heavily seasoned with righteous feminist rage.
Men don’t have to pay attention the way we do. Men die because they make mistakes. Women? We die because we’re female.
…What does it say about us that so much of the entertainment we consume is about killing women? I want you to think about that.
How is the murder of women fun?
You go to the big new thriller, you finish your popcorn, go out for dinner, talk about the plot twists with your friends, it’s just another part of your evening out. But no one brings that woman safely home. Her body is left back there on the screen while everyone goes on with their lives. Let’s think about what that means. Let’s think about what’s wrong with us.
The Final Girl Support Group is a solid thriller even outside of the slasher pastiches, with enough surprises, twists, and turns to keep the most jaded of readers off-kilter. Every time you think you’ve got it all figured out, Hendrix throws another monkey wrench—or machete, or shotgun blast—into the works. There are even a couple of heady dips into the meta and mythic, plumbing the origins of Final Girl trope in a way that will please fans of The Cabin in the Woods, before it all comes to a screaming (and very satisfying) end.
If this is your first foray into Grady Hendrix’s work, you’ll walk away from The Final Girl Support Group eager to dive straight into his backlog. If you’re a longtime fan, this will not disappoint. Hendrix was already penciled onto my auto-read list, but now he’s earned the permanent marker.
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