The Final Girl: A Brief Explainer
‘The Final Girl’, a term coined by academic Carol J Clover in her 1992 non-fiction book Men, Women And Chain Saws, refers to the last woman standing in a movie; the one who escapes or overtakes the killer, and the person that tells the story. Her book offered new perspectives on the representation of women in horror and suspense films, centring arguments around her concept of ‘The Final Girl’.
Clover argued that the final girl was becoming a feminist icon, pushing against patriarchal malevolence and a deserved update of the passive, fragile female that had driven movie plotlines for years. The term ‘Final Girl’ is now part of modern-day film culture. Social media is alive with people listing their favourite final girls. Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group, the 2021 novel that pitches a tribe of final girls against an onslaught of evil, is topping bestseller lists worldwide and the US TV platform HBO recently announced its forthcoming adaptation of the book.
‘She’s a survivor. Literally,” explains Anna Bogutskaya, the writer, film curator, and co-producer of The Final Girls podcast. “She’s the person we empathise with the most, regardless of our gender: Neve Campbell in Scream, Heather Langenkamp in Nightmare On Elm Street, and Sigourney Weaver in Alien have become the faces of horror franchises,” says Bogutskaya. “It’s a flexible trope, and thankfully so, because historically it has been limited to thin white women. Lupita Nyong’o in Us, Sasheer Zamata in Spree, Georgina Campbell in Barbarian and Keke Palmer in Nope are some of the recent final girls that have broken through that traditional and limiting mould.”
Simon Coates is a London-based artist, writer and curator