Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Final Girl Reimagined on Dead Island

by Sara N.
The teaser trailer for Dead Island, an upcoming melee-style zombie combat game, has been making the internet rounds.  It’s stunning. Take three minutes to watch it, then join me below, where spoilers – if you can spoil a three-minute video game trailer – abound.

The trailer is a mini-masterpiece of Quentin Tarantino/Memento-style nonlinear storytelling. The story’s compelling, the graphics strong, the music poignant. Some observers have criticized it for not showing any actual gameplay. I’m not here to discuss that – although they do have a point. I’d like to discuss the trailer itself.

Ben Parfitt of video game trade magazine MCV slammed the trailer for exploiting the death of a young girl in order to pique public interest in a game. And he’s right. It does. But I choose to look at it as an inversion of the final girl trope, which is a more interesting way to frame the debate, I think.
The final girl is a staple in horror movies. She’s Laurie Strode in Halloween. She’s Ellen Ripley in Alien. She’s Sydney Prescott in Scream. And she’s the reason Joss Whedon was moved to create a blond heroine with an improbable name as the focus of his television masterpiece. The final girl is the girl who survives, the girl who draws us in and allows us to experience the events of the film.
The girl in the trailer is not the final girl. She’s quite dead. But for the first three seconds of the trailer, you don't know that ... until you do. The close-up of her eye draws you in; you anticipate seeing the events about to unfold through her perspective. And in some ways, you do. She’s the center of the trailer, the focus of the action. But from the beginning, we know that she’s not the final girl. She’s not even the final zombie. She’s dead, and then she’s dead again. Girl to zombie girl to dead girl. 
This knowledge immediately subverts your expectations about what’s to come in the trailer. It knocks you off kilter and affects the way you experience the rest of it. It's a shock. Your experiences with pop culture tell you it's wrong, something's off. This final girl never had a chance. It's disorienting, and it’s brilliant.
And then, of course, there's the hot bikini zombie, all dripping with bodily horror and ripe for the male gaze. But that’s another discussion for another day ….
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  1. Totally the opposite of MCV, I LOVE that the trailer exploited the death of a made up computer generated characterisation of a little girl. It added emotional resonance to a video game trailer. Kudos to the creators, Axis Animation.

    People need to consider climbing down from their high horses. I just hope there are lots of little girls in the actual game who's brains I can smash in with a pipe. :)

  2. I love this trailer. I thought it was beautiful and sad and disturbing.

    One critique I have seen from some people is that it doesn't show any gameplay. Well, no, it didn't, but it was a beautiful piece of art that got the internet talking about the game - so I say mission accomplished. In addition, I defy any of those people who say that games aren't a viable medium for storytelling - or that games aren't art - to watch that trailer and still hold onto those misconceptions.

  3. Eridani, isn't Roger Ebert a big critic of videogames-as-storytelling? I wonder if he's weighed in on this one.

    Alan, I've always thought the wrenching task of killing your loved ones, children, the elderly, etc., is a big part of what makes up the terrible fun of zombie games and movies.

  4. Yeah, on the games topic, Ebert seems to have developed a conviction, and thus cannot be swayed by logic, reason, or evidence. We all have our blind spots, I guess.