THE horror genre is known for its formulaic structure and archetypal characters. It is heavily used in film – the kind of fear that can be neatly wrapped up in two hours, can be exhilarating in its use of tension while simultaneously remaining comfortingly fake.
The Last Girl is a novel that takes this to another level, using many of the tropes of classic horror but with more detail, using not only the genre itself to create something new but characters that are fans of it, too.
This answers the sort of questions everyone has while watching one of these movies – like why would the protagonists split up, or go outside to check on that strange noise – as the characters are the kind of people who would ask these questions. But now it’s their real lives and this danger isn;t the kind that can be cleaned up in two hours.
Rachel Chavez was already facing a great fear, a year prior to the beginning of the book after being attacked in her own home, leading to her move to New York and enrol in the private secondary school where her mother had found a job teaching history.
Over the year she found a coping strategy for her trauma – watching horror movies. She came to view this as a sort of exposure therapy, confronting all the horrific fears filmmakers could come up with so to become perhaps more calm and at ease with the future. She came to watch so many, however, that she was almost desensitised to that simulated fear and the brief rush it provided.
When her only friend at her new school drags her to a party at an abandoned house and a scary story based around the incessant buzzing of flies is told she isn’t particularly phased – not even when a buzzing sound fills the room.
What does catch her attention, however, is the boy she alone saw slipping a speaker back into his pocket just as the noises ceased.
Almost as soon as joining, Rachel has a clue to the origin of the school’s plague of pranks. It is from this discovery that she begins to uncover The Mary Shelley Club and their elaborate pranks based around urban myths and horror stories.
Their daring tests of fear and fascination with the harnessing of the unknown bring Rachel back the thrill she once found with horror movies, until it all becomes too real. The rising tension of this novel as real life threats of danger and death came back into Rachel’s world make it a fast paced and gripping read with each page becoming quicker than the last.
As the use of archetypes for the characters is important for any horror film and certainly a book mirroring these tropes, it often feels more difficult to relate to them. The writing of the main characters particularly their dialogue and interactions with each other felt unrealistic and difficult to relate to. This aside, The Last Girl has a genuinely exciting plot with all the perfect build up and release of tension of good horror.