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Literature / Final Girls

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Surviving is not living.

“The first great thriller of 2017 is here: Final Girls, by Riley Sager. If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll like this.”

Final Girls by Riley Sager is a 2017 Horror Thriller novel. It is a Deconstruction of slasher movies that follows up on the long-term effects of surviving a massacre like so many young women in horror movies do.

Ten years ago, Quincy Carpenter was a college student who survived a real life horror movie when an escaped mental patient murdered her best friends while she was on a camping trip. A nervous wreck who runs a baking vlog, she struggles to maintain a Stepford Smiler facade. Her only friends are boyfriend Jeff and police officer Coop. She is one of the three "Final Girls" that have survived similar experiences with psychotic killers — beautiful, tragic, and newsworthy.

When Lisa, the only one Quincy had any contact with, suddenly commits suicide, Quincy finds herself contacted by the other Final Girl. Samantha attempts to force herself into Quincy's life and pressure her into unleashing her long repressed violent side. She also asks uncomfortable questions that force Quincy to confront her amnesia about the night that made her famous.

What did happen that night?

This novel contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Quincy's mother is emotionally disinterested and far more interested in making a good impression on people than addressing Quincy's very real issues. She does improve and finally gives her daughter the help she needs after the truth is revealed about the Pine Cottage murders.
    • Tina Stone's stepfather abused her so badly that she ended up killing him in self defence, yet her mother still doesn't believe it happened. She later rejects Tina when she asks for a place to stay, coldly abandoning her once again.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • Quincy herself admits that she's more dependent on wine than she should be but takes steps to address it come the end of the novel.
    • Sam always has a bottle of Wild Turkey whiskey on her person, a flashback reveals it's been her drink of choice for a long time.
  • Action Girl: Averted. While the women are labeled such, they were closer to Action Survivor types. Quincy is neither as she was never in any danger due to the killer's crush.
  • Affably Evil: Joe Hannen seems an ordinary shy boy that can't possibly have been a serial killer. He turns out not to have been.
  • Anachronic Order: First person chapters are set in the present while third person ones are set in the past, or more precisely, the event that saw Quincy being the sole survivor of the murder spree that killed the rest of her friends and the direct aftermath. Third person is used again to show Tina Stone's past when her true motives are revealed.
  • Beneath Suspicion: The kind police officer that rescued Quincy after her friends were killed and has supported her since just happens to be the man behind the murders, all stemming from an obsession with her.
  • Berserk Button: Quincy has a very well buried one: being threatened by men.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Tina Brody and Coop turn out to be this, though Coop is far more dangerous.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Quincy has killed Coop but the other two Final Girls are dead. Tina also faces up to two years of jail time for the various crimes she committed trying to prove Joe's innocence. Jeff breaks up with Quincy when he finds out she cheated on him with Coop. On the other hand, Quincy will carry on Lisa's role as a teacher of Final Girls.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless:
    • Played with; Janelle insists that everyone puts their cell phones into a box in Craig's car because she doesn't want her birthday to be shown on social media, the only device she allows is Quincy's camera. This is why no-one is able to call for help during the killing spree, and Craig's attempt to reach the phones sees him being killed for it.
    • Averted when Quincy happens to have the stolen iPhone hidden on her person when Tina takes away her actual one, allowing her to send a message to Coop that she's being kidnapped before the battery dies.
  • Character Tics: Quincy always takes her Xanax with a swig of grape soda, on the advice of her now deceased father who always suggested that having something sweet helped combat the bitterness. Tina is able to use her knowledge of this to drug Quincy's soda so she can force her to return to Pine Cottage to potentially unlock more memories about what actually happened there.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The iPhone that Quincy steals early on in the novel ends up potentially saving her life and leads to the truth of who really committed the Pine Cottage murders.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Quincy has fond memories of her father who tragically died from cancer not long after the Pine Cottage murders.
  • Deconstruction: The book shows that any woman who survives an encounter with a murderous psychopath who kills all your friends is going to be a nervous wreck for the rest of their life, not a badass Action Girl.
  • Dramatic Irony: Sam/Tina believes that Quincy is the Pinewood Cottage murderer and not her best friend Joe, who she was a patient at an asylum with. She's wrong and almost pays for it with her life. She ''is' right that it wasn't Joe, however.
  • Easy Amnesia: Quincy has no memories of the night that saw her being the sole survivor which initially raises suspicions that she might have played a stronger role in it than she realised. True to some extent; Quincy clearly suffers from some kind of disorder that sees her losing control of her emotions but she notably stops herself before frightening her best friend, who was having sex with her crush, having intended to scare them with a knife. Unfortunately, that's when the real killer becomes obsessed with that image of her and takes up the dropped knife to kill them.
  • Final Girl: The central conceit is that the media tactlessly applies this appellation to three beautiful survivors of three separate in-universe massacres by serial killers. The attention only makes their lives worse and exacerbates their mental trauma. It turns out no one wants to treated like they survived a real life horror movie.
  • Flashback B-Plot: The current story focuses on Lisa Milner's unexpected death and Samantha Boyd's sudden appearance in Quincy's life, while flashbacks cover the events that lead up to and after the Pine Cottage murders. Eventually Quincy recalls exactly what happened that night.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Sam/Tina's attempt to go trolling for muggers gets an addict beaten into a coma by Quincy.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: The reason Quincy is a celebrity is due to the fact her survival of a camp ground massacre makes national headlines.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Played with in multiple ways. Joe turns out to have been a harmless mental patient who did nothing wrong. Coop, however, is a murderous serial killer. Sam was wrongly sent to an asylum for the insane. Quincy is violent when her PTSD is triggered.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The detectives who interview Quincy in the aftermath of the Pine Cottage murders say that it's suspicious that she can't remember anything and that she suffered far less fatal wounds than anyone else, subtly implying that she killed them and then stabbed herself in safe places to ensure she would look injured but wouldn't die. They're not exactly wrong, but it wasn't Quincy who gave those wounds to herself, it was an enamoured Coop who wanted to make sure she wouldn't be suspiciously uninjured but that she wouldn't be in any danger of dying.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Coop. He successfully seduces each of the "Final Girls", maintains the facade as Quincy's most trusted ally, even manufacturing fake death threat mail to her to drive her back to him when she starts pulling away. He does all of this while being a serial killer who's pattern hasn't been identified by law enforcement.
  • Mask of Sanity: Coop. He maintains the demeanor of a caring cop who will always be there for Quincy after saving her from the massacre at Pinewood Cottage. In reality he is a serial killer
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Part of the reason why Quincy and the other Final Girls are so famous. They looked like conventionally pretty horror movie protagonists. It's implied Tina is irritated with them because of this due to the fact she survived a similar horrific experience but got no attention at all.
  • Murder Mystery:
    • This arises when it's revealed that Lisa Milner didn't kill herself, she was murdered.
    • While the Pine Cottage murders are officially caused by Joe Hennan flashbacks reveal that the detectives on the case were initially suspicious of Quincy herself, stating that it was strange she survived with non-fatal injuries while everyone else was slaughtered.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Quincy suffers a minor breakdown after beating a junkie into a coma.
  • Never Found the Body: The real Samantha Boyd's body isn't found as Coop died shortly after admitting to her murder, and since she was killed in Florida, there are literally hundreds of swamps and lakes where she could be buried.
  • Never Suicide: Lisa Milner didn't commit suicide, she was murdered by Coop who set it up to look as if she took her own life.
  • Parental Neglect:
    • Quincy's mother was far more concerned about keeping up appearances than actually caring for her severely traumatised daughter but does make amends.
    • Tina's mother didn't listen to her daughter when she said her stepfather was abusing her, even when she ended up killing him. She then later rejects Tina when she tries to return home after her stint in a mental institution, claiming to her curious new husband that the young woman at the door was 'nobody'.
  • Our Slashers Are Different: Slashers are (apparently) just normal human serial killers. It's just that the media has sensationalized a specific group of them in order to promote the concept of three female Final Girls. Played with as the killers largely acted like movie villains during their murders rather than real life serial killers.
  • Properly Paranoid: Jeff doesn't like Sam from the beginning and believes she's here to shake Quincy down for money. He's wrong as she's here to kidnap Quincy in order to get her to confess to the Pinewood Cottage murders.
  • Rape as Drama: Tina used to be raped by her stepfather until she killed him in self-defense, only to be disowned by her mother.
  • The Reveal:
    • Samantha Boyd is actually Tina Stone, a fellow inmate of Joe Hennan at the Blackthorn Mental Institute who knew he wasn't the one behind the Pine Cottage murders. The real Samantha Boyd hid away from the public eye and they shared enough of a resemblance for Tina to pass as a thinner version of her as the only public photograph of Samantha was from high school.
    • Joe Hennan is completely innocent and was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He even pleaded for Quincy to not do anything she would regret when it looked as if she were stalking her friends with a knife.
    • Coop is not only behind the deaths of Lisa Hilner and Samantha Boyd, he is responsible for the Pine Cottage murders and Quincy's status as Final Girl, all stemming from a sudden infatuation with her.
  • The Scapegoat: Joe Hennan didn't hurt anyone the night of the Pine Cottage murders, he even comforted a distraught Quincy when she was rejected by her crush Craig and pleaded with her not to do anything she would regret when he found her striding towards Craig and Janelle with a knife in hand. It was just unfortunate timing that saw him escaping the mental institution the same night Coop went on a killing spree, becoming the perfect scapegoat when he's shot and killed so he can't even begin to defend himself.
  • Serial Killer: Joe and the other serial killers who made the Final Girls famous. Joe is innocent. It was Coop all along.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny:
    • Quincy is uncertain about having sex with her boyfriend on the camping trip. Their one attempt goes badly. So she ends up sleeping with mental patient Joe instead.
    • Turns out to actually be a thing that Quincy suffers from in life as she's irritated with caring, sensitive partners and prefers to have a dominating sleazy one.
    • Coop has this view of women. He kills, or tries to kill, each of the Final Girls after sex.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Quincy suffers PTSD that she keeps under control with Xanax and avoiding triggers.
  • Slasher Movie: A literary version of one, or at least their aftermath. The Final Girls are a media sensation created by cynical publishers because their victims are pretty and their stories have a similarity to horror movie leads.
  • The Sociopath: Coop and his obsession with murdering people, from innocent teenage couples in the woods to Quincy's friends, to the other Final Girls Lisa Milner and Samantha Boyd as they either knew too much or couldn't live up to his image of Quincy respectively. He admits that he only joined the military to try and get the urge to kill out of his system but that what he saw just made his bloodlust worse. The only remorse he shows is for having killed Lisa, if only because she reminded him of Quincy.
  • Sole Survivor: Each and every one of the Final Girls;
    • Quincy is the only survivor of the Pine Cottage murders, a birthday trip that went horribly wrong when a killer strikes in the middle of the forest.
    • Lisa Milner is the only sorority girl to survive when a college dropout enters their sorority house and kills her sisters. She's able to wrestle the knife from him and strikes a killing blow before he can cause her further harm.
    • Samantha Boyd worked at a motel that drew the attention of a religious fanatic who wanted to smite sinners and decided to kill the staff and guests with various tools.
  • Stepford Smiler: Quincy does her best to put on a facade of a happy, sweet, and bland young woman. It has done little to help her PTSD.
  • Sticky Fingers:
    • Quincy doesn't steal items for their value, she takes items that show her reflection, from spoons to an iPhone with a shiny case. It's so she can remind herself that she's still there whenever she looks at them.
    • Tina, on the other hand, takes items just because she can, from expensive blouses and earrings to pens and personal belongings. Likely because she's had a rough life and doesn't have much in the way of money.
  • Villainous Crush: Coop is revealed to have had one on Quincy the entire time, which is why he spared her life.
  • Wicked Stepfather: Tina's stepfather abused and raped her so severely that she ended up killing him.
  • Worst Aid: Sam/Tina deliberately tries to provoke Quincy's PTSD.