Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 13 July 2021)
Length: 13 hours and 55 minutes
My rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Bestselling author Grady Hendrix presents one of the most unique and intriguing novels of 2021, The Final Girl Support Group, a compelling thriller that brilliantly explores the slasher movie genre.
Hendrix is an interesting author and screenwriter whose name I have been hearing a lot in the last couple of years. The author debuted in 2012 and has gone on to write several fun horror-based novels, including Horrorstör, We Sold Our Souls and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. Each of Hendrix’s previous novels had some fun concepts, and while I have not had the opportunity to check them out myself, I did read some very positive reviews for the previous two novels. Hendrix’s latest book is The Final Girl Support Group, which caught my eye a few months ago. What I found was a cool and clever novel that proved to be a compelling and addictive read.
We all know who the final girls are. They are the only survivors of the vicious horror killers and slasher fiends in the movies, who manage to kill their monsters, avenge their friends, and walk off into a bloody sunset. However, what happens to these final girls after they survive the worst days of their lives? How do the final girls move on?
For Lynnette Tarkington, the horror of her defining moment never truly left her. Twenty-two years since surviving terrible experiences, she is still barely able to leave her apartment, with paranoia and fear forcing her to see unimaginable danger around every corner. Her only solace is the long-running support group she shares with five other final girls who have gone through their own traumatising events. Together these women have slowly begun to put their lives back together one way or another, until the fateful day that one of their number fails to show up to group.
It soon becomes clear that their missing member has been murdered, a victim of one of the monsters they all fear. As the remaining final girls go to ground, Lynnette finds herself under attack by someone who knows all about her and her escape plans. Forced to improvise outside of her comfort zone, Lynnette discovers proof that other final girls are also being targeted. When evidence suggests that Lynnette is responsible for some horrendous actions, she goes on the run to find out who is framing her. Desperate, terrified, and still bearing the scars from all those years ago, Lynnette’s situation looks grim, but her latest monster is about to discover that you never count a final girl out.
As you can probably guess from the awesome plot of this book, The Final Girl Support Group is a very interesting novel that has some excellent elements to it. Hendrix has come up with a clever narrative for this book, especially as it contains a very fun and compelling take on the classic slasher films.
The Final Girl Support Group has an excellent and deeply entertaining narrative which tells a very unique tale of a plot to kill the survivors of classic horror killers. Hendrix does a really good job setting up each of the characters and the different world they lived in. From there the story moves fast, as the protagonist experiences a variety of attacks on herself and her friends from all manner of directions. The middle of the novel slows down a little and is extremely heavy, really examining the psychology of the protagonist and her friends, while also containing some excellent reveals and dark moments. This all leads up to a very exciting conclusion, which was extremely intense and reminiscent of the films Hendrix is emulating and honouring.
Despite its roots, this novel was written more like a character-driven psychological thriller rather than a pure horror read, which I think worked extremely well. The entire novel is loaded up with some cool twists, and the eventual reveal about who is behind the plot is pretty awesome and has some clever set-up behind it. I loved the author’s inclusion of certain in-universe fictional articles and other inclusions, such as horror movie reviews, listicles and police transcripts, which helped to enrich the universe while also providing some interesting context to the various characters. While I did have some issues with the middle section of the novel, mostly because of my feelings towards the main character, I felt that the entire narrative came together extremely well, and the outstanding conclusion really enhanced the entire overarching story. An overall compelling and addictive read.
Easily the best part of this entire novel was the author’s examination of the horror/slasher genre as part of the plot. Hendrix is obviously a massive fan of the horror genre, which is not too surprising considering he has actually written a couple of horror screenplays, such as the weird and disturbing sounding Satanic Panic, which I’m kind of keen to check out. This love of horror is very clearly shown throughout The Final Girl Support Group, as this book acts as a major homage to some of the most famous slasher films of the last century. The five other members of the support group are all strongly inspired by the final girls from Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Scream. Each of these characters has a very similar backstory to the characters from these movies, and Hendrix takes the time to describe the events that made them famous, which are near matches to the films, with similar characters, events and sequels. Even Lynnette’s story, which is shown in the most detail, bears a very strong resemblance to the controversial 1980’s slasher film, Silent Night, Deadly Night and its sequel (a somewhat more obscure film that I had never heard of).
As a result, this novel is chock full of references to these various films, as well as some other horror/slasher entries (there was one that sounded a lot like Leprechaun). I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of the horror genre, and my knowledge of slasher films is limited, however, even I was able to pick up and appreciate most of the references, which was really cool. Hendrix does a wonderful job of deconstructing the various films, and it was extremely compelling and fascinating to see the author explore the aftermath of the event, the psychology of the killers, and the concept of crazy film fans. I deeply appreciated the way that Hendrix structure this unique world where all these slasher movies occurred, and it was very interesting to see stuff like the final girls getting the film rights to their experiences, or the acceptance that a killer will come back in one form or another for a sequel. The author also explores the negative sides of the slasher genre, such as the fact that they can be rather sexist and exploitative, and that author manages to cleverly tie some of the violence of the novels into the alt-right and men’s rights movements. I did think that the underlying message that all men are evil was plastered on a little too thickly (having every single male character be an ass was a bit much), but I suppose that was a pretty significant theme of these slasher films. This examination of the horror and slasher genre was pretty damn amazing, and fans of these movies are going to absolutely love seeing all the subtle references and compelling homages.
While I loved the story and all the amazing slasher film references in The Final Girl Support Group, I did feel that the novel was rather let down by the characters. I was not the biggest fan of protagonist and point-of-view character, Lynnette, and I am in two minds about how much I liked her. I did appreciate the author’s depiction of her as extremely paranoid and traumatised, which felt very realistic and deep. I also enjoyed her survivalist mindset, which reminded me of Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in the 2018 Halloween film. However, what annoyed me was at how incompetent the character was. While I understood that the author was building towards the character having a breakthrough and becoming more dependable, I honestly think he really overdid the hopelessness. Despite all her training and disaster planning, she manages to mess up every single action, interaction, or plan that she engages in, and is constantly outsmarted by the most obvious ploys or traps. It was so frustrating to see her screw up again and again, and I found myself nearly yelling at the book every time she made a mistake. Honestly, if Hendrix had dialled back these traits just a little, I probably would have enjoyed this novel a little more. That being said, I did really appreciate the changes to the characters that did occur, and it was great to see her get some wins eventually. I also enjoyed some of the twists that Hendrix set up around the character, which proved to be extremely compelling and place new light on her story.
Other members of the support group include Dani (whose story is like Halloween), Marilyn (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Julia (Scream), Heather (Nightmare on Elm Street) and Adrienne (Friday the 13th). Hendrix spends a bit of time exploring these characters, and it was cool to see the exploration of all these classic final girls and the aftermath of their horrors. I really enjoyed seeing how each of them moved on with their lives after their experiences, with the characters running the gauntlet from inspirational to depressing. It proved to be extremely captivating to learn more about these characters, and I grew to like several of them, although Heather was pretty annoying (her issues relate to her more psychological experiences, and the character does redeem herself by the end of the book). I did find myself getting frustrated with each of these characters at times, as they also make some classic horror movie heroine mistakes, such as not performing a double tap (rule one in a horror situation), and being so quick to disbelieve Lynnette, even after all their experiences. There were also some noticeable issues when it came to portraying the character’s ages. Despite each of these characters having their traumatic event occur in the 1980’s when there were teenagers, none of them act like middle-aged women, which seemed really odd to me. However, in the end I was able to overlook some of these flaws, and I ended up enjoying each of the characters’ stories and development.
While I was tempted to grab a copy of The Final Girl Support Group as an ebook for a quick read, I ended up getting the audiobook version, which has a runtime of just under 14 hours and which took me about a week to get through. One of the more interesting things about this audiobook format is the narrator, Adrienne King, who horror/slasher fans will recognise as the final girl of the original Friday the 13th and who also had a subsequent appearance in Friday the 13th Part 2. I felt that this was a pretty brilliant choice, not only because King portrayed a final girl but because her own real-life experiences with stalkers mirrors what happens to the characters in this novel. However, while I did think it was a very fitting choice, I have to admit that I was not amazingly impressed with King’s narration. She did a good job keeping the novel going at a quick pace and providing some emotion and feeling to the story, but I didn’t like the way she voiced the characters. There is some variation between some of the final girls, but I honestly found that King’s voice work highlighted some of the character’s annoying tendencies and it never fully drew me in. Still, this audiobook format is a fine way to enjoy this novel, and it is worth checking out. I am also sure that Friday the 13th fans will enjoying hearing King’s take on the novel, especially when she describes the various homages to her own film, including the similarities in the deaths between one of the characters and King’s final girl in Friday the 13th Part 2.
The Final Girl Support Group was a fantastic read and is one of the more memorable and inventive novels of 2021. Grady Hendrix does an outstanding examination of the final girl phenomenon in this novel and manages to craft quite an impressive and enjoyable thriller narrative around it. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of every aspect of The Final Girl Support Group, it is still a great novel to check out, and horror fans will love the excellent examination of the genre. I am very glad I decided to check this novel out and I will have to keep an eye out for whatever unusual book Hendrix writes next.