Tuesday 9 January 2024

The Final Girl Support Group (Berkley) by Grady Hendrix

Disjointed, drawn-out and dull mystery comments on society’s obsession with violence toward women in film.

The Final Girl Support Group details Lynnette Tarkington’s journey from justifiable paranoia and reclusiveness – she’s a two-time survivor of attacks from killers who wiped out people close to her – to a focus on being part of a group and helping others. The novel also explores a collective obsession with films in which women get mutilated and murdered by crazed men, as well as why attractive, able-bodied white women dominate the final girl stereotype.

Lynnette, whose best friend is a plant, belongs to the Final Girl Support Group led by therapist Dr Carol Elliot. Each group member is the sole survivor of a killer’s rampage. Their ordeals have also spawned horror films whose storylines echo those of classics such as Scream, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween, and Friday the 13th. The most entertaining final girl is the drug-abusing Heather, an abrasive type who drops f-bombs and isn’t beyond flicking a cigarette butt into a swimming pool.

When Lynnette, whose own brutal Christmastime trial inspired Slay the Halls (invented by the author), suspects someone is trying to kill everyone in her group, she goes on high alert and tries to warn the others. As the talky first-person narrator gets closer to unveiling the killer, the danger intensifies. 

Throughout the novel, author Grady Hendrix interweaves snippets from different fictitious sources such as horror fanzine articles, scholarly film critiques, text from the back cover of a VHS tape, and police interview transcripts. Despite their attempts to create a commentary on the horror genre’s fixation with harming women, these asides detract too much from the main story. All this shifting about makes it hard to get invested in Lynnette or the other characters. 

Several drawn-out scenes lack compelling content. When Lynnette is in a car with a teenage girl, for instance, nothing happens to advance the story. The two seem to repeat the same basic ideas just to keep the story going. 

The novel’s saving grace is its focus on women uniting to combat male aggression. Another aspect worth commendation is the juxtaposition of the quick, violent deaths of horror films with the slow, exhausting deaths of reality.—Douglas J. Ogurek **

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