Times produce the final girls they deserve, and the final girls of modern slashers aren't taking any of their tormentors' deranged stab-happy shit. Call it a reaction to last June stomping all over reproductive rights, a backlash to smothering patriarchy, or just a statistical inevitability. No matter the trend's impetus, it's inching closer to the new norm.
Capable final girls aren't new; the trope's blueprint has, after all, undergone multiple necessary refurbishments since the 1970s. Early final girls leaned into "damsel in distress" identities; today, that model has mostly obsolesced. In their recent Halloween sequel trilogy, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride imagined Laurie Strode in full survivalist mode, but in Halloween '78, she needed rescuing by Dr. Loomis. Sidney Prescott has notches on her belt for every Ghostface she's killed in the Scream series, but in the 1990s, she was Men, Women, and Chainsaws author Carol J. Clover's very definition of "final girl." Like Laurie, she hardened with experience.
But the mid-2010s introduced a slow-cresting wave of final girls ready to go twelve rounds with the maniacs terrorizing them from the very start. Take The Final Girls, where Max (Taissa Farmiga), daughter of an actress (Malin Åkerman) best known for playing a final girl in a 1980s slasher film, inherits the "final girl" mantle when an act of magical realism sucks her into that very same slasher film and pits her against its killer. In Happy Death Day, Tree (Jessica Rothe) stumbles into a time loop that resets each time her stalker murders her, and with each reset, she's better able to fend them off.
Seemingly in unconscious response to both of these movies, Green and McBride shaped their script for Halloween (2018) around Laurie's coping mechanisms for trauma. She has a house in the boonies that's more like a bunker, with fortifications tailored to Michael Myers' nigh-invulnerability, and she's spent the years between their last encounter and their inevitable future meeting working on her marksmanship and knife skills. The decade closed with Christopher Landon's Freaky, a body swap slasher where high school student Millie (Kathryn Newton) and middle-aged serial killer the Butcher (Vince Vaughn) each take a spin in the other's corpus with gory but surprisingly touching consequences.
Freaky arguably provides a bridge connecting the final girls of the mid-to-late 2010s to 2022's final girls; Halloween Kills dropped in 2021, but as a continuation of 2018's Halloween plot and themes, it's comparatively less symbolic. That debate aside, though, there's no disputing that 2022 has yielded a bumper crop of final girls: Scream '22's Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera), Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Lila (Elsie Fisher) and Sally Hardesty (Olwen Fouéré, standing in for the late Marilyn Burns), Watcher's Julia (Maika Monroe), X's Maxine (Mia Goth), and most significant of them all, Terrifier 2's Sienna Shaw (Lauren LaVera).
Each of these women reflects different phases of the final girl archetype, but toughness isn't baked into their characters. They toughen up through their confrontations, with two exceptions: Sam and Sienna. Sam, Scream '22's protagonist, didn't get to choose her dad, [spoiler] revealed to be the original Scream's Ghostface, Billy Loomis. In the film, she meets him at last - as Billy appears to her in hallucinations, no longer a Ghostface but just a regular-strength ghost. It's a some good, some bad situation. Sam's understandably torn over Billy's spooky visitations. Having a psychopathic murderer for a sire is a thorny burden to carry, even if it's a dead psychopathic murderer moldering in the dirt 26 years after eating a bullet. There's little benefit gained from that paternal relationship.
But that little benefit comes in handy. In this instance, it means "inheriting" the temperament required to ram a knife through a man's chest like a piston pump sucking oil from a well. Of course, she's reluctant to tap into that part of herself; any conscientious person would be. Sam's reluctance dissolves when given the choice of getting in touch with her heritage or dying. The new Ghostface, Richie (Jack Quaid), scarcely has time to register her rage before she soaks him in his own vita - one less serail killing, franchise-possessive nerd to trouble the world. It's a satisfying scene: Barrera shows a savagery she suppresses elsewhere in her performance, and Quaid gets to, well, die, which is a badge of honor in a Scream film.
That thrill is fundamental. Whether Sam likes it or not, killing is an innate skill handed down to her by her dad. Billy shows her the knife hidden under window curtains; it's up to Sam to use it. Billy gives her a smile that verges on loving, knowing she'll do what she has to, and vanishes from the film. If he had a parting line, he'd probably tell her he's proud of her. It would probably be awkward. Sienna's bond with her dad in Terrifier 2, also deceased and saddled with his own baggage, is downright uncomfortable. A brain tumor shuffled Mr. Shaw off his mortal coil; it also triggered abusive behavior, which Sienna and her brother Jonathan (Elliott Fullam) repeatedly reference throughout the film. The siblings reckon with their family history and the unwelcome attentions of Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton), the sadistic mime clown stalking them around town.
Terrifier 2 is widely considered an improvement over Terrifier, where director Damien Leone demonstrates a strong grasp of the slasher's core entertainment (murder!) but no sense of how to contextualize that entertainment. In Terrifier 2, he establishes a new degree of inevitability in the final girl trope. Sienna is fated to defeat Art, foretold in her dad's sketchbook, brimming with images of the latter, plus newspaper clippings detailing his past crimes, as well as images of the former as an angel-warrior. Sienna takes those pictures as inspiration for her Halloween costume, but the armor's for fun, not action; she wants a night out with her pals where she can escape her demons. But Art forces her hand: He mutilates Sienna's friends and family, and frankly, any poor schmuck he feels like mangling, kidnaps Jonathan, drawing her to the disused carnival grounds where Art took his first victim.
She can't fight chance. She can fight Art. It was meant to be. Her father left her a sword as a keepsake; she's a Valkyrie by birthright. Final girls have fought back against slashers before. Slashers have never looked as shocked as Art when she disarms him and beats the shit out of him with his own DIY cat o' nine tails. He can't escape his fate, either. Papa Shaw set his demise in motion with pen and paper; Art runs Sienna through with that sword, but, in a limbo modeled after a nightmare she has earlier in the film, she pulls that sword out of her wound, climbs out of purgatory, and cuts the clown's head clean off. Like Sam, Sienna is equipped for battle. But Sienna is knightly: She's a born protector. Valiance is in her DNA, too, alongside violence.
Watching Sam kill Richie is a pleasure, but there's a different pleasure in watching Sienna kill Art. For one, Art is at least three times the monster Richie is; if they ran into each other, there's a decent chance Art would cut Richie to ribbons for his amusement. For another, Sienna punctuates Terrifier 2's fantasy elements by adopting a fantasy figure. Fortune designates her as the hero; she resists. When Sienna accepts her role as She Who Will Kill Art, she effectively becomes a new final girl variant. It isn't just inevitable that she and Art end Terrifier 2 together. It's destined in mythic fashion. LaVera carries that motif through with dazzling star power, ending 2022 as its greatest final girl, a serious accomplishment given that she's following up Neve Campbell and Jamie Lee Curtis. She may be the year's most influential final girl, too - the one to usher in a generation of final girls prepared to slash their slashers back.