In 1992, the American film teacher Carol J Clover publishes Men, Women and Chain Saws: the genre in the modern horror film (Princeton University Press). She introduced the concept of the “final girl,” a female protagonist who survives the bloodshed to face the slasher in the final scenes. If the last girl is heroic, she is also a problematic figure, kept alive by the filmmaker because of her sobriety or chastity while other women who have more fun take the ax. The sequel makes the final victory of the Pyrrhic Girl anyway.
Half-way Screen violence, Chvrches’ intense fourth album, a song titled Final Girl puts the well-worn horror trope to more personal use. Lauren Mayberry – spokesperson for the synth-pop trio from Glasgow – does not want to “end up in a bodybag”. In 2019, Chvrches co-wrote a huge melody, Here with me, with Marshmello. DJ EDM then worked with Chris Brown, the rapper convicted of violently assaulting Rihanna.
Chvrches tweeted their dismay. The trolls came down with rape and death threats. Chvrches stepped up their security and went on, pondering the entertainment industry’s rotating moral compass and their own mortality. (Covid obviously helped with that, too.)
As the song Final Girl quietly examines the curious ins and outs of stardom, Mayberry wonders if she should “scream”. Elsewhere, she has “nightmares”, immune to the comfort of “lullabies”. “They read my rites,” she sings on a song called Violent Delights.
Basically, Chvrches is an indie band from Glasgow, a band that has put their mastery of synth euphoria into the big international pop leagues. They’ve faced trolls before. Although Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty now regularly fight with factory-made EDM-pop franchises, with female singers and singers, all the more Love is Dead LP of 2018 – their formative years in the underground have always provided this trio with a sharp and sometimes dark side. This is no longer an advantage, but the characteristic feature of this pugilistic album.
A great icy game recorded by the three members in isolation until they can be brought together for singing and finishing, Screen violence doubles the tropes of the film, gets closer to the horror writer John Carpenter for the remixes. It presents the best tribute to Cure de Chvrches, How not to drown, as a duet for The Cure’s main man, Robert Smith, now back in demand as a validation guest singer (see Gorillaz’s Strange timez) as delays plague The Cure’s 14th album and their the bassist is leaving.
Of course, “screen violence” isn’t limited to nasty 80s videos. It embraces the distortion of screen reality in our hands, as well as the fun of escape: schlocky horror can always be an enjoyable commuting activity.
The inner horrors – self-doubt, regret, disillusionment – are all present and correct here, too, as Mayberry reflects on her own past behavior on the album bookends, Asking for a Friend and Better If You Don’t. . Even though Chvrches takes care of the rest of the world, this is a very personal album for the singer-songwriter. “I wish I had contacted my mother more,” she sings on Lullabies. Through it all, she comes out swinging – just like this last girl. Mayberry even bleached her hair blonde in a playful way as a tribute to all those low budget, high performing movie heroines.
Then there is another living nightmare: being turned on by society, as well as your intimate partner. Chvrches has a song that absolutely nails that too: The Massive Hammer Looking Arena He said she said, a two-player game in which a “he” plays mind games with Mayberry’s “she”. It echoes the edicts of culture at large. Be thin, but not too thin. Drink, but “don’t be a mess”. “It’s all in your head,” he sneers. “I feel like I’m losing my mind,” Mayberry retorts, not without reason. If the sound of Chvrches can be bombastic, it serves a massive theme.
Why do the final girls survive? Because they are “good” girls, morally honest people who appeal to people whose own pleasure takes a back seat to beauty and beauty. In the film, these girls stay alive. Real life is much more complex.
Here the song Good girls denounces the double standards under which women are forced to live – and the endless parade of male artists whose misdeeds continue to be exposed. “Killing your idols is a chore, and it’s so boring, because I don’t need it anymore,” sings Mayberry. She’s done being a good girl too. “I won’t apologize,” she says unequivocally.