Prior to Columbine, movies about bullied students seeking revenge against their aggressors were a dime-a-dozen, with everything from Massacre at Central High and Prom Night to Terror Train using some variation of peer maltreatment as an impetus for their antagonist’s murderous behavior. Since 1999, however, high school violence has become something of a cinematic taboo. Sure, there have been myriad exploitative shot-on-video gorefests few have seen or heard of, but, for the most part, the horror genre has avoided the subject for over a decade. That’s what made The Final – a mid-budget quasi-horror/revenge thriller that’s part of 2010’s After Dark Horror collection– look like such a dangerous proposition, and I have to admit that much of my enthusiasm that led up to seeing the film was due to morbid curiosity. How far would they go? The answer is, for better or worse, not far enough.
Dane (Marc Donato) and his small circle of friends have been the targets of bullying for their entire lives, living under constant fear of persecution and physical and mental abuse at the hands of the jocks, cheerleaders, preppies, and elitists who populate their small town school. Dane, an avid horror fan, has come up with a means of getting back at his tormenters, and, with the aid of the meek Ravi (Vincent Silochan), mousy Emily (Lindsey Seidel), and mild Jack (Eric Isenhower), sets the stage for an “invitation only” costume party at his late father’s isolated home. The guest list includes brutal jock, Bradley (Justin Arnold), bubblehead popular girl, Bridget (Whitney Hoy), and a virtual who’s-who of elitists, debutantes, and random high school stereotypes, all blissfully unaware that this “party of the year” could very well be their last hurrah.
The Final opens promisingly enough, offering some truly despicable protagonists who we learn to hate as much as the film’s anti-heroes do, but, when the action shifts to the party, things go downhill fast, culminating in yet another exercise in torture porn and misguided morality lessons. Dane, donning a gasmask and voice changer that makes him sound like a cross between Jigsaw and the tranquilized Will Ferrell in Old School, delivers one long-winded speech after another, denouncing his “guests” behavior and attempting to rationalize his, but what’s surely meant to sound profound comes off as so much prosaic gobbledygook. Virtually all of the film’s torture sequences are preceded one of Dane’s soliloquies, slowing the film’s pace to a crawl. Matters are made worse by two superfluous characters – a neighboring Vietnam vet who stumbles into the action in an ill-advised attempt at comic relief, and a “cool” student (one of the few Dane considers a friend) who crashes the party and causes dissension in the ranks. Their inclusion, here, merely serves as a distraction from the fact that, once the party gets under way, The Final has completely run out of ideas.
The Final looks good, and the acting and direction by newcomer, Joey Stewart, competent, but the surplus characters and overabundance of moral-spewing dialogue make sitting through the film a chore, rendering what could have been a ballsy and controversial meditation on an inviolable subject little more than a slowly-paced and uninspired piece of torture porn light.
Lionsgate releases the film as part of After Dark’s annual 8 Films to Die For collection, and presents it in a solid 2.35:1 transfer that sports solid contrast and nicely vivid colors. It’s a clean enough image, free of excess grain and artifacts, but, overall, the film looks a bit one-dimensional. The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is robust and well-mixed, with clear dialogue, and a nice spatial mix that works all corners of the room. Extras include a commentary track featuring Stewart and producer/writer, Jason Kabolati, deleted scenes, and a short behind-the-scenes featurette. Rounding out the extras are trailers for this year’s collection of Horrorfest films, 8 Films to Die For III, and a sneak peak at the upcoming After Dark Originals series, coming in September 2010.