The Final was written by Joey Stewart, directed by Jason Kabolati and was one of the "8 Films to Die For" in 2010's
After Dark Horrorfest. I've seen a lot of the films in this annual series, and to be honest, most of them so far have left me feeling a little underwhelmed. My expectations for this one were fairly low going in, but I was soon glad that I'd given the film a shot. The Final is by no means a waste of time, and is vastly superior to many other entries in the After Dark Horrorfest canon. It's premise even brings some originality to the horror genre, something which I will always applaud. All of these qualities elevate the material enough to make this a good
movie, and for much of the run time, I thought I just might have a great movie on my hands. About halfway in, the film falters a little, recovers somewhat, falters again, redeems itself again, and continues to move through this series of creative peaks and valleys for pretty much the rest of the film. I could almost see the number of potential stars in my review flickering in front of my eyes as I felt called upon to constantly add or deduct points, to either give the movie the credit it was due or acknowledge its weaknesses.
That said, I never got the feeling I was watching a trainwreck or a phoned in production. The Final is a movie with real depth to it and a script that, for the most part, is well-written and skillfully develops its central characters. The premise is both new and old. On one hand, its an age old tale of outcasts getting revenge, pitting nerdy and otherwise marginalized high school students against their prettier, more popular, and seemingly more fickle peers, who have teased and bullied them well beyond their breaking point. What's new here (and quite a daring departure for the horror genre) is that when the nerds finally plan their revenge, it does not include killing their tormentors. Rather, they're out to teach the popular kids a lesson they will never forget, which as one character notes, will make them wish they were dead. The means they come up with to teach these lessons might be seen by some as "torture porn" in some parts, but The Final never quite descends to the exploitative level of the Saw
or Hostel franchises.
Another thing that works in this film's favor is the fact that the ones inflicting the torture here are far more relatable than Jigsaw or the opportunistic sadists you'll find in Hostel. This sets up quite a conflict for the viewer, nce several of the popular kids, who initially seemed cruel to the core, come into their own as the film plays out, revealing the capacity for self-realization, self-sacrifice and even altruism. The result is that many of the central characters, nerd and popular kid alike, take actions that are extremely difficult to condone, yet they retain some level of likability. You get the sense that they're all just incredibly flawed, immature kids who could still go either way in life, which makes it all the more heartrending to see some of them going in the direction they are. The actors who exemplify that dynamic best are Marc Donato as Dane, Lindsay Seidel as Emily and especially Whitney Hoy as Bridget.Another fascinating element of the film, character-wise, is that even when the outcasts have their targets immobilized and ready to be punished, on some level they still seem to be seeking their approval. They house the "lessons" they inflict on the jocks and pretty girls within elaborate performances that seem aimed at impresng them almost as much as terrifying them, and they go to great trouble to hide their identities inde scary costumes, only to unmask themselves at the slightest provocation.
All of the elements above endeared this movie greatly to me, but The Final has flaws as well, some of which it manages to smooth over before the ending, and others which it doesn't. One problem is that there are mply too many characters here, especially condering that about half of them are covered almost head to toe in scary costumes for much of the film. Because some of these characters are less integral than others, and because they keep splitting up to go about various tasks, it can become difficult at times to remember which outcast is inde which costume, and even how many people are involved in the scheme against the popular kids. The addition of a war-torn ex-military man turned police officer (played by Mark Nutter) is an unnecessary complication that doesn't add much to the film. Rather, this guy seems more like a method of eating up some of the run time and adding some comic relief that the movie didn't really need. There are several other moments where the film seems to be trying to define itself as a horror/comedy rather than a straight up horror film, but these moments are so few and scattered that they end up being jarring and distracting from the seriousness of the proceedings. This particular movie excels when it takes its premise seriously and treats its characters with sentivity and begins to nk itself whenever it strays from that formula.
The other main problem is the ending, which seems both rushed and somewhat clunky. Despite the minor speedbumps presented by the awkward moments of humor, the script is more solid than most for much of the movie. However, at the end, I could almost hear scriptwriter Joey Stewart saying to himself "crap, this movie is getting too long, I'd better wrap things up." All of a sudden, things mply get resolved with no warning. Don't get me wrong, the ending we get is probably the ending that was originally mapped out, I just got the feeling that the filmmakers skipped some of the stuff that they wanted to put in the middle. One of those left out things may have been any kind of satisfying developments for the character of Kelli (played by Laura Ashley Samuels) who had a big part in the bullying that happened to the unpopular students, but who ts chained up and ignored by her victims for the entire movie while they mete out punishments to other students who are guilty of far less harassment. This character starts out as a central one, but ends up with absolutely nothing to do and pretty much zero reason for even being in the last half of the movie. It's hard not to feel somewhat let down by this film, even if it does represent a high point in the After Dark Horrorfest. As good as it is, it could have achieved more if it were a little more polished and had slightly fewer characters to juggle. However, The Final
undoubtedly has something to say, and for the most part, it does so with originality and heart. It falls short of greatness, but most definitely achieves enjoyability. I give it 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.