"The Final" is a relatively low budget though professional-looking affair, shot on 35 mm film in full cinematic 2.35:1 ratio and distributed by the ubiquitous Lions Gate in the US. Ultimately though, it seems to have been just a little too deliberately crafted with a specific teenage audience in mind to ever really get under the skin in quite the way it wants to. It's a teen-orientated high school revenge thriller that somehow manages never to engage the viewer with any of its stock characters (be they victim or perpetrator), so utterly cliched and generic so they all become in the translation from page to screen. Nevertheless, first time director Joey Stewart provides adequate if unspectacular helmsmanship, and the cast of mostly new actors proves itself well up to the task of delivering the cookie-cutter 'types' required of it by producer and writer Jason Kabolati's perfunctory screenplay. Premised on a Columbine-type revenge plot executed by a bunch of bullied high school 'geek' students who decide to teach their tormentors a lesson as a gruesome prelude to their own planned suicide pact, much of its thunder is stolen by much more hard-hitting examinations of the subject such as Larry Clark's "Bully"; unfortunately the film has little more to offer than a protracted group torture session in much the same vein as the Saw and Hostel films it so clearly derives most of its style from, but without any of their commitment or invention, or even that much full on on-screen nastiness, let alone suspense.
Dane (Marc Donato) and his geeky friends are tired of endlessly being beaten up, bullied and humiliated by the meat-headed jocks and their sarcastic, appearance-obsessed cheerleader girlfriends at their local High School, and so decide to teach their nemeses a proper lesson that makes adequate use of the geek knowledge they've acquired in their classes, while combining it with the influence of all those countless horror flicks they've watched in darkened bedrooms over the years. They organise a wild weekend fancy dress party for everybody who has ever made their lives a misery, while being careful not to invite their one 'straight' friend, Kurtis (Jascha Washington) -- one of those student which every school has, who effortlessly manages to get along with everybody, be they the bespectacled science nerds or part of the muscle-bound sports crowd. Making use of an isolated lakeside mansion (which Dane's family have fortuitously inherited from a dead relative) as their venue, Dane and his friends put their chilling plan into action.
The party punch has been laced with a sleeping draught and after the guests have overindulged themselves during the raucous festivities, the lot of them wake to find themselves chained together and unable to move. They're faced by a collection of weirdly attired individuals led by a gas mask-wearing freak who refers to his group as 'the outcasts'. Obviously it is Dane and friends dressed up in costumes that refer to their favourite horror films. The grounds surrounding the venue are being patrolled by some more geeks on quad bikes who are in on the scheme and dressed in identical costumes to those inside. After delivering rather a long, self-righteous speech (the first of many as it turns out; the victims will need actually their fingers cutting off with garden sheers or a steel bolt through the cheek just to stay awake through them. The viewer gets no such help!) various party guests who have at one time tormented, sneered at or physically beaten up one of the geeks now turned avenging torturers, take it in turn to be on the receiving end of some payback for all the grief they've dished out over the years. The gang make it perfectly clear that they have no intention of killing anyone. Maiming, disfigurement and paralysis are the name of the game -- a permanent calling card for their victims to remember how they've previously made others suffer.
Stewart and Kabolati are clearly talented filmmakers and "The Final" is a perfectly well-constructed, nicely shot and cleverly cast film -- but it simply fails to make any real impression. It's one of those films you don't mind watching because it would be far too much effort to get up to turn off, anyway. The trouble is that you can see all too easily exactly what they were trying to do: there are countless witty homages in it to classic movies such as "Deliverance" and "Audition", while the general style of the film has been ripped straight from the recent and superbly creepy "The Strangers". But unlike all those films, never does "The Final" manage to wrong foot its target audience or be the cause of so much as a mild shudder. You know where it's going and how it's going to contrive to get there, and the screenplay makes every move you expect of it, exactly when you expect it. It has little to say that isn't crashingly obvious, either (bullying might be bad, but so is strapping someone to a dentists' chair and pulling out their tongue with pliers!). That said, there are some nice performances here, particularly from ultra-moronic head jock Bradley, played by Justin Arnold and the winsome young Winona Ryder lookalike (which reminds me -- "Heathers" was a much better stab at similar material) Lindsay Seidel as proto goth, Emily. It was a nice idea to make all the parental figures anonymous (like Mammy Two Shoes in the Tom & Jerry cartoons, you only ever see their legs!) and the score, by Damon Criswell, is surprisingly grand for such a low budget movie and adds considerably to any small sense of tension the film does manage to generate.
The transfer on this UK DVD release from Chelsea Films is very good, and the 5.1 audio perfectly fine. There is also a 2.0 Stereo track included and a commentary with director Joey Stewart and producer and writer Jason Kabolati which becomes a fairly interesting defence of their visual choices and their reasons for them. A trailer and a short and inconsequential deleted scene are the only other extras included here.