The Final

The Final


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Practically every bullied kid dreams of revenge at one time or another. Psychiatrists advise that letting go of these brutal fantasies can be an important part of the recovery process, but they acknowledge that the scars from which they stem can run deep - and, of course, kids who have suffered feel thoroughly entitled to them. For these people, The Final may well feel cathartic. For others, perhaps those who now feel awkward about what at the time seemed like harmless teasing, it's a horror that could stil strike close to home, illustrating the danger that can be born out of all that resentment.

Since the Columbine massacre woke the world up to school killings a decade ago (though it was hardly the first such incident), a number of films have tackled this subject, among them Gus Van Sant's Elephant and Ilmar Raag's The Class. The Final director Joey Stewart felt that they weren't going far enough - perhaps, whilst they deliver quite a punch for adults, they seem too tame to teenagers raised on films like Hostel and the Saw franchise. So this film sees its outcast anti-heroes not merely kill their heroes but set them up, inviting them to a fancy dress party then drugging them and having them wake up in restraints ready for a long night of torture.

Copy picture

It's a potentially interesting premise and well suited to genre expectations. The popular girls, of course, have a reason to be decked out in their sexiest gear. One of the jocks is dressed up like a gladiator, recalling Michael Blodgett's unfortunate character at the end of Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Meanwhile, the torturers - a rag-tag group of goth/emo types, nerds and a boy abused for his ethnicity - get to dress up in costumes which playfully reference the other horror movies from which they admit to drawing inspiration for their scheme.

It's an intriguing conceit - a film undermining the case for censorship by, in a sense, blaming itself for actions the ultimate responsibility for which must, of course, rest with the kids themselves. It also provides an opportunity for further references and in-jokes, though not all of these are a good idea. Calling one of the popular girls Heather only highlights the comparative weakness of this film's dialogue. A torture scene which mirrors Audition's devastating climax illustrates that Stewart, at this stage in his career, lacks the skill to generate anything approximating that level of tension.

Lack of tension is, in fact, one of the film's major weaknesses. Having got the bullies into a compromised position the film doesn't really know what to do with them. The fact that its characters don't either is interesting - there was room here to develop a compelling story about power relations and the diference between fantasy and reality, but sadly it's squandered. An attempt is made to place a time limit on proceedings by having popular-but-still-nice kid Kurtis (Jascha Washington) run off to look for help, but this means that the film's most charismatic actor is separated from the mainstay of the action. The potential for interesting power dynamics among the bullied kids is lost when Dane (Marc Donato) assumes tyrannical control, which is unfortunate as he lacks personality and can't really convince in that position.

Where strong characters and dialogue might have built on its premise to make it unmissable, The Final has only mediocre dialogue (with far too much exposition) and just about adequate acting. In one case, what ought to have been a powerful torture sequence is ruined by the toned-down nature of the suffering girl's response - she gives it all the oomph of somebody who has just stubbed their toe. For a film trying to sell itself on brutality, The Final is strangely reticent to actually show us the nasty stuff. The torture isn't terribly original and the effects not as impressive as they needed to be. There is also (probably unintentional) comedy when it seems that the victims are to be tortured with banjo playing and amateur dramatics.

What elevates this film beyond straight-to-DVD status is superb cinematography and art direction. It's beautifully crafted despite its low budget and, as such, deserves to be seen on a big screen. It's also interesting because of the weakness of its central characters and their plan, and the different emphasis this creates. There's a real sense that all of those involved are out of their depth. It's a stark reminder of just how young and vulnerable they and their real life counterparts are. With adult characters either absent or incompetent, it will mirror many people's experience of high school all too well.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2010
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A group of outcast high school kids, sick of being bullied, kidnap their tormentors and prepare to torture them.
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Director: Joey Stewart

Writer: Jason Kabolati

Starring: Marc Donato, Jascha Washington, Whitney Hoy, Justin Arnold, Travis Tedford, Julin, Lindsay Seidel

Year: 2010

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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