The Final Review
Just in case you’re not utterly sick of vacuous, bland, and uninspired torture movies, here comes The Final to accelerate your journey to the very precipice of nausea. Some movies feature torture scenes as part of an intriguing and challenging plot, others take a more one-dimensional approach where the torture is an end in itself, depicting scenes of stunning realism to overwhelm you with an orgy of visually shocking gore, and others still attempt to emulate the other two categories in depressingly cynical fashion, in the mistaken belief that stringing together a collection of uninventive and unpleasant torture scenes can generate a picture that will appeal to the intended audience of gore-thirsty connoisseurs. Unfortunately, our subject here falls into the last category, and despite some redeeming features, it lacks the creativity or originality to be anything other than a substandard clone.
Capitalising on the disturbing reality of tragedies such as the Columbine shootings, The Final presents a grimy vengeance story, where the cruelly persecuted school nerds exact a long and drawn out revenge upon their ultra-cool but distinctly odious bullies. Whilst a perfectly acceptable premise in itself, the manner of the film’s execution means that the vaguely likeable nerds that we instinctively associate with for the first section of the film, become pathetic and irritating once they launch their tortuous assault on the perpetrators of their misery. As such, we lose all sympathy for the bullied allies, and the movie becomes a meaningless collection of loosely connected sequences of what is ultimately further bullying, albeit by the formerly bullied nerds.
Though it’s fairly evident from the off that this is a budget horror flick, there are some early moments of promise, which makes the eventual descent into lame and uninspired mediocrity all the more disappointing; a carefully shot black and white sequence opens the movie, and raises a little intrigue. The early shots of our doomed throng at the school also grants us the hope that this will elevate itself above the usual budget fodder, with some wide shots of the students walking down corridors demonstrating an approach with an eye for detail.
Performances at this stage suggest good things; Justin Arnold’s Bradley the bully, for example, is particularly convincing, prickling our moral sensibilities with his cruel and unpleasant treatment of his geeky student peers. And the flighty, attractive, yet equally cruel school girls are appropriately hollow and superficial, positioning themselves as supposedly justifiable targets for the brutal ire of the angry mob.
There is a final early scene which presents promise before the movie deteriorates. The band of super-cool students enjoy a party at a deserted house in the middle of a forest; as the rap music thunders out, the camera pans across the action in slow motion, absorbing the hedonistic activities of the revellers. It’s a well shot scene, yet it marks a point where the movie plummets into inexcusable dinginess.
Cue the bullying of the bullies, and the temptation to switch off – mentally and physically - is almost irresistible. Rather than presenting an absorbing tale of revenge, the descent of the nerds into the dirty mire of their bullying peers proves depressing and ultimately unrealistic. Their discussion around the symbolically hellish camp fire on the previous evening is meant to demonstrate their turning point, but they become pathetic and soulless as they enter into their diabolical pact, transforming instantly – and with a complete lack of authenticity - into cold, evil, sadistic torturers.
There are numerous other irritations. The voice of the lead nerd-turned-bully behind his S&M-fashioned studded gas mask sounds utterly ridiculous and not remotely threatening. The script is, at times, fairly dreadful. The reactions of the incarcerated throng of bullies are hopelessly unrealistic, as they sit largely motionless (save for some unconvincing rocking) whilst their peers are tortured. Worst of all, the movie attempts a ‘homage’ to a number of classic extreme horror moments, including the immaculate Audition, but rather than acting as a tribute to such milestones of extreme horror, the simplistic cloning of gruesome scenes taken out of their original context feels cheap and uninspired.
The movie offers some redeeming features in the form of acceptable filming, initially decent performances (and a solid performance throughout from the young but experienced Jascha Washington, who plays the likeable and laid back Kurtis), and the odd flash of creativity. Yet overall, there is too little invention, too many weak performances, and a real dearth of engaging plot to recommend this picture. When our initially likeable nerds become the ruthless, odious bullies that we originally despised, The Final loses our affection, and becomes just another empty and depressing sequence of meaningless torture sequences. Shame.
The Final, released by Chelsea Cinema (presumably not some sort of Stamford Bridge-related side project), is presented with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and the wide shot filming preference of the director seems well served in this format. The picture is generally rich and strong, with a good representation of colours. Finer details are lacking a little; close-up shots of faces show a slightly artificial appearance, for instance. Perhaps the biggest issue is the darker shades, which are a little overbearing, and it often proves difficult to pick out details in the darker scenes.
The menu system is straight forward and easily navigated.
Audio reproduction is clear and without distortion, and the soundtrack is delivered with adequate depth. The audio options available are standard 2.0 stereo, and Dolby Digital 5.1. The positioning of sounds works well, but the main gripe is that the monotonous drone of the lead character behind the gas mask sounds insubstantial, and lacks impact. Overall though, for a budget presentation, audio is decent enough.
There is a small selection of extras. We have a trailer for The Final itself, and a collection of Chelsea Films trailers, including Animals, the serious looking Rapt, and the gruesome XII.
There is a single deleted scene featuring the policeman who has a brief appearance in the feature, and despite the protestations during the commentary, it seems appropriate that this scene was removed, especially given the near 90 minute running time of the main film, which is plenty long enough. The deleted scene would have added nothing to the wider picture.
Finally, we have director’s commentary, featuring director Joey Stewart, writer/producer Jason Kabolati, sound guy Tim Nagle, and Disco the dog, who doesn’t contribute much to the discussion. The commentary is enjoyable enough, with some light humour, and a level of insight into some of the decisions regarding filming techniques, particularly given the considerable constraints of a tight budget and short time scale.
There isn’t a great deal of discussion surrounding the plot, but we do get occasional references regarding some of the symbolism, and an attempted justification of the ‘homage’ moments.
The Final fails to live up to its early promise, and deteriorates into just another cheap revenge story, using the misery of tragedies such as the Columbine massacre combined with some uninspired cloning of notorious horror scenes to drive its straightforward story through to completion. Director’s commentary, acceptable visuals, and decent audio reproduction means that there is something here for fans of the torture flick, but for those who demand some depth to their extreme horror shockers, disappointment will be the overarching result of this depressing picture.