Not everyone gets what they deserve, be it good or bad. Those who work hardest rarely reap the benefits, and American presidents never get beat with a switch. The horror film The Final attempts to rectify this by giving those with the smallest voice the biggest weapons. And it all takes place in the biggest battlefield on the planet: high school. Well, that's an exaggeration. It actually takes place in a secluded house, and high school should only be important to those who are currently in it. However, the movies like to teach us that the most formidable years of our life are the ones when we fully understand absolutely nothing. We're not getting a "nerdy girl makeover" or "nerdy boy gets hot girl" movie here, though. This is unpopular kids getting bloody revenge on the popular kids. If there is subtext to be found, it's missing its fingers.
The Final, spared of its gore and torture scenes, is like Erin Brockovich with all of the details changed (figure that one out). The plot is essentially too simple. In an ordinary town, a handful of ordinary kids are made to feel like shit by a clique of hyper-obnoxious pretty people. I'll go ahead and say that while nothing about the film amazed me, I cannot deny how well it works in different areas. Bullies will always make me sneer, but I wanted to absolutely destroy these assholes 10 minutes in. Their names are irrelevant, but know that boyfriend/girlfriend Bradley (Justin Arnold) and Bridget (Whitney Hoy) each have a handful of same-sex friends to reflect upon. There's not a lot of separation between anybody’s cruelties, though I suppose their hair colors and lengths are all different. I see it as an extremely conscious choice.
Every piece of promotional footage calls the unpopular kids "outcasts," though I think that a true outcast would have no friends, rather than dissimilar people in similar circumstances. In any case, these guys are slightly more deviated in character traits. Dane (Mark Donato) is a scrawny kid with a barrel of rage in his little head. He's got the raven-haired Emily (Lindsay Seidel) at his right hand, and there should have been a little hand-holding between them to spice things up, but maybe it was breaking convention. In any case, the groups' other members include banjo-pickin' Jack (Eric Isenhower), Andy (Travis Tefford), and Ravi (Vincent Silochan), an Indian lad who gets every vulgar stereotype in the world thrown at him. In the middle of the two social groups is Kurtis (Jascha Washington), a kid just cool enough for school; he buddies up to everyone.
The constant harassment has to stop. It’s decided a faux Halloween party will be thrown at Dane's parents’ empty house in the middle of the woods, and only the popular kids are invited. There's a clever scene before the party starts where Bradley speedily drives his pot-toking friends, and a cop stops them. The cop gets them to admit their intoxication, and lets them go after taking the weed. It's clever because they get away with it, which should rightfully piss everyone off who's ever gotten a ticket for something miniscule. Soon after, when the party starts, things take a delightful dark turn. The vengeful kids mill around in wicked costumes as the future victims gets fucked up on spiked punch. Everyone falls asleep, soon waking up all chained together in the middle of the floor. Dane & Co. have even changed into more evil masks in the meantime; Dane's contains a voice-altering mechanism, as only he will be addressing the victims.
The second half of the movie contains a few twists and turns, some marginal tension, and entirely too much of Dane’s philosophy/whining. The rules are laid out early on that the group isn’t going to actually kill anyone, as the interest lies in the good-looking teens having to live with their maimed and scarred bodies. This doesn’t mean the film lacks a body count, but it probably won’t include who you’d expect.
As generic horror movies go, it’s hard to fault The Final for much more than being too one-dimensional. The acting is less staged than most teen-based cinema, though clunky dialogue mars some scenes. For it being Joey Stewart’s first feature as director, it’s impressive enough. He keeps the atmosphere moody, and frames quite a few still-worthy shots, particularly when it comes to the costumed vigilantes. I don't understand the need to start and finish the film with a simple black-and-white scene at a BBQ restaurant, but it's his prerogative.
I hadn't even realized how violent The Final sounds, in a school massacre and suicidal bomber world. I didn't even consider this during my viewing, because the lack of subtlety thankfully dilutes genuine drama with practical-effect gore and creepy costumes. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker, it might have been a different story. Also, it doesn't try to match Funny Games-type realism with its violence, which works because it doesn't get heavy handed, but doesn't work because the dialogue-heavy portions make you yearn for more attractive people to get cut up. It could have ended after a half-hour with a firing-squad-style execution and I would have been pleased. That's how amped up the early bullying was. I'd call bullshit if that kind of pointless antagonizing wasn't entirely plausible. People are assholes, man.
There's a commentary from director Joey Stewart and writer/producer Jason Kabolati, and while it's not boring, there's not much to it. They go over the themes and add to character backgrounds somewhat. I was pleased to hear them say that they purposefully sidestepped a more brutal approach by avoiding close-ups when violent acts are happening. Meaning we're spared the sight of a blade slicing through each layer of skin and bone while blood spurts out dramatically. You see that kind of thing once, and you've seen it a zillion times, so I'm glad those kinds of shots aren't bogging down the more fluid moments.
You can avoid the single deleted scene involving Deputy Hennessey (Mark Nutter) and go straight to the behind-the-scenes featurette. There's no major insight into the art of filmmaking, but in the 20-minute runtime, most of the actors and crew get a chance to say something humorous about the filming. We get to see certain scenes set up and shot, and Travis Tefford talks about his life post-Little Rascals (he was Spanky in the '90s remake). All in all, a better extra than I was expecting. There's a producer's trailer, if that's your bag, but otherwise, that's about it. It's a movie 10 shades better than anything that played on USA Network after midnight at any point in the past 20 years, but it's still just a standard horror flick. Fans rejoice!