The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

August 7, 2021

In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?

Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.

But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

How many times have you seen this at the end of a slasher movie? Survivor turns to face the future with a determined stance. Confident in the knowledge she has destroyed her own personal demon, she can now deal with anything life throws at her. The screen fades to black and they all live happily ever after. It’s a lovely dream, isn’t it? Triumph over adversity and all that. Sadly, it just doesn’t ring true for me. How could it? Picture the scene; various friends and family members have been dangled on meat hooks, dismembered with chainsaws and then hacked into small pieces*.  After all that physical and mental torture, you are somehow expected to just move on, to grin and bear it. Seems a bit far-fetched doesn’t it? If it were me, even though I can confirm I am not a perky teenage cheerleader, I know I would be traumatised beyond belief.

What happens to the survivors of movie type massacres? When all the media furore has died down and their story has passed into the realms of urban legend, how do they cope?  Are final girls destined to become objects of curiosity, and in some cases ridicule? Can sharing with a group of like-minded social pariahs offer any sort of healing? The premise of The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix focuses directly on that idea.

After her brush with death, Lynnette has gone the Sarah Connor/Laurie Strode route when it comes to her rehabilitation. Always armed, her home has become a fortress. Isolated from everyone and everything, she knows she will be safe. If she needs to disappear, her escape plans have been checked and double-checked. Lynnette has survived once and she is damn sure she is going to survive again. She may sound like a complete bad-ass but, truth be told, Lynnette is so crippled by anxiety it doesn’t matter how prepared she is. Through the course of the novel the evolution of Lynnette’s character is particularly poignant. We see twenty years of shock finally give way to the other stages of grief that she has kept locked away for so long.

In an effort to hang onto something normal, Lynnette goes to group therapy once a week. The other members of the group are more than just friends, they are a dysfunctional sisterhood bound by violence. Each one has suffered similar experiences to Lynnette and are the only ones who can ever hope to relate to her. As a reaction to their various origin stories, the final girls support group have found their own coping mechanisms. There is everything from out and out denial to escape via copious amounts of pharmaceuticals.  Others prefer head-on acceptance or using the need to care for others as an emotional safety blanket. Each survivor has found a way to continue existing. In particular, I found the character of Heather entertaining. The narrative is sprinkled with darkly comic moments that will make you laugh and then shift uncomfortably when you realise this probably isn’t something you should be laughing about. What can I say? Survivors and brutal honesty make for deliciously snarky bedfellows. Heather certainly embodies exactly that attitude.

Exploring one of horror’s most popular tropes, the plot is perfectly executed. There are so many little nods to all the classic movies of the genre. It’s all subtly done but they are there should you choose to look for them. I loved it all. You’ll spot character names that are just slightly different to their movie counterparts as well as references to events and places that all sound vaguely familiar. Feel free to start counting. See how many you can spot and we’ll compare lists later. This novel is a love letter to all the shlocky bloodfests that have become cults classics. If names like Wes CravenTobe Hopper and Sean Cunningham are familiar, or you appreciated the recent Netflix trilogy Fear Street then I reckon you’ll get a kick out of this.

The Final Girl Support Group is published by Titan Books and is available now. Highly recommended.

I’m going for the easy option this week when it comes to my musical pairing to accompany this novel. The soundtrack to The Final Girls by Gregory James Jenkins hits every serial killer note you could possibly hope for. I especially like the John Carpenter-esque synth that pops up from time to time.

*Probably so a clan of inbred sub-human nutjobs have something in for dinner.

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