Imagine: you’ve just narrowly escaped some axe-wielding psychopath in a mask with a name like “Burt” or something equally not as terrifying as it seems it should be, at least three other people that you care about were murdered in a myriad of confusing ways (I didn’t even know you could jam a tire iron that far down someone’s throat!), and you don’t know what the next step is. At least when you were getting chased in the dark, there was something to focus on, like putting one foot in front of the other and trying to avoid said axe-wielding psychopath. But now you’re wrapped up in a blanket in the middle of the suburbs, trying not to be blinded by the flashing lights of the first responders, pretty certain the serial killer that was after you is dead, and you can’t ignore that little voice in the back of your head that keeps saying, “What the fuck do I do now?”
Well, if you’re Laurie Strode, you avoid therapy and turn to substance abuse and paranoia to pass the time. As we’ve seen, that doesn’t seem to work very well.
Or you could be Sidney Prescott, who tried to move on just to have the same shit happen to her on a different day. Eventually you would turn into a recluse in the hills of California. It will lead you to success, but it will take a lot of trauma processing to get there.
But what most Final Girls have in common, besides their shared trauma, is that they never really get a happy ending; there’s always one more killer, or one more chance to step up and be the hero yet again despite all the unraveling and spiraling that certainly comes with the territory. At least in real life, if you shoot a serial killer in the face, it’s almost guaranteed that there won’t be a sequel to your movie although stranger things, and copycats, happen. Even then, the moment that you are officially a character in a horror movie, your life has lost all agency and you will never truly amount to anything other than, “Oh that’s X, we all know them because they were able to survive the Y massacre even though all of their friends and family were killed in the process. So sad.” If you were one of the first ones murdered, you would be forever memorialized as a victim of whoever killed you during whatever event. It doesn’t matter if you cured cancer or were the first person to step foot on another planet - the moment you take your last breath at the hands of some spooky dude in a mask, that’s the only thing you’ll ever be remembered for.
So what should you do when a killer’s no longer after you?
When You’ve Become the Final Girl in Your Life
First off, please for the love of God go to therapy. I’m biased and think that everyone needs to go to therapy just because it’s actually pretty nice, but PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a very real and life-threatening phenomenon that can ruin a person’s life - or even end it entirely. Laurie Strode is shown to have not processed her own PTSD and instead redirected those emotions into anger, hatred, and a bloodthirsty need for revenge. Instead of caring for and nurturing her mind after what happened to her, she turned into a paranoid woman who was so consumed by her grief and trauma that she allowed it to negatively affect her personal relationships and even led to her child being taken away from her by CPS - and yet even that wasn’t a wake up call for her. Would the movie have a different outcome if she had gone to therapy? Probably!
Second, do not, under any circumstances, sign over the rights to your story to a movie producer, writer, or anyone else that approaches you, no matter how nice they may seem. As we see in Scream 4, that sort of infamy deludes “fans” into believing that they can orchestrate their own tragedy under the guise of becoming the Final Girl in their own lives in an effort to become famous. Copycats exist, unfortunately, and having your trauma displayed for all the world to see may be cathartic in some way but can and will be destructive in the long-term. Also shown in Scream 4, it doesn’t matter if the person is related to you or not; the possibility of fame can delude any sociopath into believing that they can do it better and become even more infamous for surviving an attack. The money may be good, and you may be seeing dollar signs floating off the contract, but trust me it’s not worth it.
Third, be prepared for a lot of interactions with law enforcement. Like, a lot. Because despite the fact that you’re a victim of this entity, it’s an entity that (usually) only you’ve encountered and survived, so that immediately puts the crosshairs on you as a suspect of murder. Despite the fact that neither movie approaches this after the action, both You’re Next and Ready or Not deal with first responders interacting with said Final Girl - one is seen as the perpetrator, and the other is alluded to as… well, a victim of circumstance more than anything. Erin has to fight to keep from being locked in a jail cell with a thrown away key, considering that when backup arrives she is the only one conscious in a house filled to the brim with dead bodies of people she’s not even related to; every alarm bell would be ringing if I personally witnessed that crime scene. Although, out of Erin and Grace, I feel as if Erin would be exonerated for her “crime” once sufficient evidence is brought before a judge and jury - the men in masks, the fact that there’s a signal jammer in Felix’s car, etc.; Grace is fucked and would also more than likely be assessed for some sort of mental illness or delusions of religious… What, grandeur? There are no bodies, she’s covered in blood that’s mostly not her own, and the house is ablaze behind her; what are the odds of her coming out of all of that scot free, even with the Devil’s assistance? (Fight me, Todd)
So, there we have it. The top three issues that should help you navigate the waters of being a Final Girl in a horror movie, despite the fact that I’m sure there are a lot of rules I missed (like changing your name or moving away, even though historically that hasn’t helped either). However if you have any ideas that could possibly help a protagonist, let us know! And if you have different beliefs or disagree with anything I’ve said… keep it to yourself.