Benjamin R Moody’s feature debut Last Girl Standing poses an interesting question: what happens to the final girl after the horror movie ends? Unsurprisingly, it’s not all sunshine and roses.
The film stars Akasha Banks Villalobos as Camryn, who’s struggling to get by after killing the masked man who attacked her and murdered her friends. She lives alone and is isolated from her co-worker at the dry cleaners. With the arrival of handsome Nick (Brian Villalobos) and the kindly Danielle (Danielle Evon Ploeger), things look like they could get better…but the memories of what happened are never far away, and maybe the killer isn’t either.
We talked to Moody ahead of Last Girl Standing‘s world premiere at Film4 FrightFest about balancing drama and horror, no-budget filmmaking and why The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has the best final girl.
So where did the idea for Last Girl Standing come from?
It came from years of watching slasher movies! I always loved the end when the girl was carted off screaming, whether it’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre when she’s in the back of the truck, or Friday 13th Part 3 when the cops cart off the girl and she’s just cackling. So seeing that all my life in all sorts of movies always intrigued me. Then when my wife [producer Rachel Moody] and I were home after our first child was born, we were stuck at home in October just watching horror movies because you can’t do anything with a new infant! So we watched a lot of horror movies, and I watched the end of a Friday 13th movie. And starting at the end and just seeing the girl get carted off, when you start there, my mind went racing with “Well, what happens now?” and “What if you start the story here and look at her life later after these traumatic events?”
So it was always as much about the psychological aspect as the slasher horror?
Yeah, that was the hook for us. We were struggling to think of a movie we could do on basically a zero budget and then when we got spitballing, it was this idea of exploring life after a slasher experience. If I saw all my friends brutally murdered and barely survived, I don’t know if I’d be strong enough to go back to a normal life after that. So a goal was to explore the damage that an experience like that could cause and how hard it would be to move on from something like that.
Was getting that balance between drama and horror difficult? It’s still a pretty gory movie!
We were very conscious of that and that’s why we wanted to open with the previous horror movie, the sort of traditional one, just to really get some excitement and hit those beats that everyone wants from a horror movie right off the bat. Opening strong like that allowed us to have a little longer and more intimate look at the character in the middle of the piece. It slowly ramps up and dies down again, and hits again. But yeah, it was a conscious thing and we were trying to be very delicate, but not be too boring because I wanted it to still be within the horror realm!
There’s also the friendship between the two female leads, which grounds it and makes it relatable.
Yeah, Danielle and Camryn, that was the crux of the movie working, especially in the middle there, making sure these girls connect, and I wanted a non-sexual friendship to blossom. I just wanted a good female relationship.
It’s a low-budget first time horror movie. Could you talk about the process of actually getting it made?
We started with that nugget of an idea, but then we did the classic thing of the Robert Rodriguez list, which is write what you have access to. And so we did a list, we have family friends who have this giant piece of land, so we had this ranch that we could shoot the horror stuff on. And Travis Jones, our DP, used to work at a dry cleaners and is still friendly with them, so we had a dry cleaners.
The thing that we knew we had access to right from the get-go was great actors. We’ve been doing a lot of shorts here in Austin for a number of years and built relationships with some great actors, so I was like “I think we can get by with doing the drama because we have access to great actors.” And that was the biggest key to our Rodriguez list!
It does feel like the whole thing really lives and dies on getting a great actor to play Camryn.
Yeah, Akasha, her husband is Brian, he’s the Nick character, and he’s been in a ton of our short films, and she’s been in one of our short films. I got talking with her before I came up with Last Girl and she was talking about wanting to do something a little more serious and step into the feature realm a little more. And for some reason when this idea of a survivor came up, she just instantly popped into my head, and I went and talked to her about it before I’d even written it. I knew I needed someone strong like Akasha so I basically wanted to make sure she’d be into the idea before writing the script. I didn’t want to write the script and not have a strong lead, but as soon as I pitched it she was so game.
Any time I pitched the idea of “Let’s look at the idea of life after a horror movie,” it was something that everyone leapt at and latched onto really quickly, so that’s when we decided we had something to go forward with. Not very many people have seen the movie yet, but the people that do latch onto her, which is great for Akasha and it saves our movie! As low budget as a movie is, it lives and dies on if you care about your main character. So that was a big focus for me and everyone.
Did you have any particular inspirations for the film?
I kind of jokingly, the other quick pitch was “It’s kind of like Short Term 12 for slasher movies!” Short Term 12 was this fantastic movie, just really touched me and I was blown away by the performances and everything so that was a jumping off point too. “What if we did the Short Term 12 method for the slasher genre?”
It also reminded me of Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die.
Yeah! I love A Horrible Way To Die, I saw that here at Austin at Fantastic Fest and that’s a great movie. That’s another one I showed a number of the cast. I like this new horror movement that’s been happening for the last five years, dramatic horror. Just a little more serious. I like throwing a joke in here or there just to lighten the mood but I like the character study horror. Horror often gets a bad rap from people outside the genre. We in the genre just watch everything. We love all types of horror, but this movement I think, they’re good gateway movies and raise outsider opinions of horror, and hopefully will bring in new people to explore the genre more.
How are you feeling about the upcoming world premiere at FrightFest?
It’s nerve-wracking! The DCP was made last week for FrightFest world premiere so it doesn’t feel finished yet. Probably at the premiere at FrightFest it’ll feel finished, watching it with an audience of strangers! But yeah, I’m super excited. This October it will have been two years since the inception of the idea so I’m excited for people to see it and hopefully take a lot away from it. The FrightFest audience is the audience that I made the movie for, I’m part of that audience.
Do you think you’ll stay in the horror genre?
Yeah, I would totally love to live in, or be horror adjacent for quite a while. We had this other script that we tried to get made before Last Girl that’s still in one of our frying pans, bubbling, but that one’s horror sci-fi. There’s going to be horror in our stuff in the immediate future for sure! We’re developing a couple of new ideas as well. The idea is to have a couple of different projects with different budget ranges in the works, so whatever we can get money for, we have something really cool that we want to work on. This sci-fi horror thing, if I only got a half a million dollars for it would be really tough to pull that movie off so I’m trying to have things of different budget ranges so we can make something that we’re excited about and don’t have to compromise on it.
Finally, who is your favourite final girl?
I think it has to be Marilyn Burns in Texas Chain Saw. That’s the one I always think of, just her in the back of the truck, screaming, laughing. That is my favourite one. I love her, I love the performance and that encapsulates a big inspiration for our movie. We get spoiled, we’ve been living in Austin for nine years and the Alamo Drafthouse here did a screening of Texas Chain Saw in front of the house. And so they put up a screen, we all sat on the front yard and watched Texas Chain Saw at the house from the movie, it was pretty amazing!