Film

Did Scream change perception of the final girl theory?

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Slasher films have always been associated with feminist film theory, due to their constant reference to the female form.

Probably the most well – known of these is that of ‘the final girl’. The ‘final girl’ was developed by Carol J. Clover. In this theory, she writes “that these films are designed to align spectators not with the male tormentor, but with the female victim – the ‘final girl’ – who finally defeats her oppressor.” (C. Clover, 1993)

The connection between sex and the slasher sub – genre is always present, so much so that they often equate sex to death. Therefore, it is fair to say that the ‘final girl’ is required to be either, virginal or sexually unavailable at the time that the film commences. This is juxtaposed by one of the sexually active females who actually invites the slasher to kill her, where the victim’s promiscuity is denoted by her erotic lingerie. (Clover, 1992: 151).

It allows them to blur the lines of gender and not alienate the male audience members. This is an aspect, which makes it easier for audiences to relate to the ‘final girl’, no matter of their sex. As part of this approach to make the ‘final girl’ unisex, the characters often have names that the audience would associate with males. On a less obvious level, the ‘final girl’ has typically masculine personality traits, such as intelligent, complex, and assertive.

A prime example of a ‘final girl’ showing these characteristics is Sydney Prescott of Scream (Wes Craven, 1996). Clover also identifies that the final girl must have a connection with the killer, as it makes the pair understand each other on a deeper level and because of this, the history between Sydney and the killer becomes clear to both, the audience and the character, fairly early on by giving certain pieces of information that links them both together, although what it is exactly is not revealed until the very end of the film. The hint is given through a phone call between Sydney and Ghostface, where he asks “Do you want to die, Sidney? Your mother didn’t.”

By not revealing the history to the audience at that point it allows the film to create false suspect in Cotton Weary, who Sydney identified as her mother’s killer some years previous. The killer in Scream is no different than the killer who murdered Sidney Prescott’s mother, and it is this ‘female scorned’ aspect which makes her less feminine and turns her into a unisex persona.

As previously mentioned, Sydney differs from the typical ‘final girl’ as the audience see her on – screen, having sex with her boyfriend. However, she still manages to convince the audience of her purity and her coy attitude.

This derives from the fact that Sydney tries to keep her virginity through most of the film. It comes to the audience’s attention early on, as her boyfriend points to her that there is a lack of sex in their relationship. In keeping with the rest of the film’s constant referencing to horror films, he compares ‘the exorcist got me thinking of you because it was edited for TV. All the good stuff was cut out and I started thinking about us and how we’re just sort of edited for television.’ The sexual activity between Sydney and her boyfriend takes place towards the end of the film. The fact that it happens, the audience later learns, is due to the obvious manipulation of Sydney by her boyfriend, as he wants to set up Sydney to be a victim of the killer.

Sydney is a complex character. The film depicts her, as just the average teenage, making her more easily relatable to the genre’s target audience. This means that a lot of the scenes take place in the town’s high school showing that Sidney would be typically smart. This would be a frequent trait of a ‘final girl’. Despite her being very intellectual and well – educated, she is very easily led by her friends’ opinions. She becomes suspicious of her boyfriend at certain points in the film. For example, this first happens when a mobile phone falls out of Billy’s pocket to the floor, when he has supposedly disrupted Ghostface from his attack. Sydney is swayed from her wariness by peer pressure from Stu. She refuses to listen to her own logic and in turn, act upon it and, instead, it leads to her downfall.

Sidney’s best resource is her own quick thinking and adaptability in crazy – making situations. She doesn’t seem to be able to show other solid signs of resourcefulness because in this film, the killer is so close to her so she is not able to do any resourceful pre – planning that he is not aware of. Essentially, as soon as the killer sees she’s getting some breathing room and rest, and that she might be able to turn her ‘smarts’ on and get the chance to use her intelligence, the killer strikes, causing her to be distracted and, in turn, lead to someone else’s death.

An example of this adaptivity is when she stands and fights even when things appear ridiculously one-sided and bad for her, and she doesn’t isolate herself out of grief even when she’s aware that the killer is likely to be near her.

Despite arguments for and against classifying Sidney as a stereotypical ‘final girl’. There is no doubt that she played a role in the killing of Ghostface and was ultimately the last female survivor in the film, which, as an overall idea is what being a ‘final girl’ entails.

It can therefore be concluded that Sidney is the 21st Century’s answer to the trope.

Overall, the genre has changed its portrayal of female characters and ‘final girl’ slightly. The women in these modern slashers have seemingly become more masculine and aggressive, but only when circumstances force them to do so.

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