My screener copy of Finale arrived swathed in fanfare and hyperbole. There were the de rigueur awards mentions and about a dozen or so festival laurels festooning the packaging, but, given the ubiquitous and oftentimes sketchy nature of film festivals, these awards and laurels mean about as much as the little gold stars you got in kindergarten for not writing on the walls with your feces. I get indie flicks like this all the time, and, more often than not, they’re downright awful. What saved Finale from the “when I get around to it” pile, however, was a pull-quote from some random site that compared the film to the work of two of my favorite filmmakers, Dario Argento and Mario Bava. These are names you just don’t throw around lightly, my friends. For me, when a critic says a film is reminiscent of Argento or Bava, that’s high praise indeed, and I immediately needed to know whether this particular reviewer was speaking the gospel truth, or taking the masters’ names in vain.
It turns out it was a little bit of both.
Finale opens with young Sean Michaels (Warren Bryson) and his goth galpal, Angela (Maria Jenkins) preparing to blow up a coven of demon-worshipping nutjobs with a steamer trunk full of pipe bombs. Sean presses the detonation switch, and the couple embrace in celebration of their deed, but, when they realize that their homemade explosives didn’t go off, panic sets in as the coven summon “The Collector” – a vicious apparition who kills your enemies in exchange for sacrificing your lover – to kill Sean and retrieve his soul. Sean’s death is ruled as a suicide, but his mother, Helen (Carolyn Hauck), refuses to accept that, and, while cleaning out Sean’s rundown house, she discovers evidence that leads her to believe that there was a supernatural element involved in her son’s death.
Helen’s daughter, Kathryn (the outrageously attractive Suthi Picotte), meanwhile, is desperately trying to get over the loss of her brother and fit in at school. Kathryn joins a theater program overseen by the enigmatic Mrs. Bliss (Elizabeth Holmes), and takes a liking to the troupe’s cocky “star”, PJ (Brad Barnes), who recommends her for the lead role in their latest production. It’s not long, however, before Helen’s erratic behavior threatens Kathryn’s newfound happiness. She is convinced that her daughter is the cult’s next target, and sets out to finish what Sean started before The Collector can take another soul.
Finale is bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s a competently produced and reasonably well-crafted supernatural thriller with decidedly Euro leanings (more on that later), but, at the same time, it’s indie origins are readily apparent in some of the lackluster performances and production values. That being said, what director, John Michael Elfers, and his crew have accomplished here is actually quite remarkable as Finale did something that many big-budget horror films fail to do, and that is hold my attention. Sure, the story’s a bit convoluted (and perhaps overzealous given the budgetary restraints), but its compelling nonetheless, and I found myself hopelessly drawn into Helen’s struggle against the cult and their conjured creep. While I could have done without some of the jittery editing effects and post-process Avid vomit, for the most part the film looks and feels like an early ‘80’s supernatural/exploitation flick, replete with a super grainy and atmospheric aesthete that will surely please grindhouse enthusiasts.
So what of those Argento and Bava comparisons? Well, I can almost see them, here, especially in the sets bathed in candy colored lighting and smoky haze, but I actually felt the film shared more in common with the rough-around-the-edges style of Lucio Fulci than the elegant work of his more polished brethren. The real similarities to Argento’s work lay in the film’s theme and structure, with secret societies, supernatural protagonists, and numerous red herrings that would be right at home in the director’s “Three Mothers” trilogy. This, combined with the Euro-horror influenced visuals, makes this one I’d recommend to fans of the genre, if only to see the burgeoning talent that is Elfers, whose next film – whatever that may be – will be one for which I’ll be keeping an eye out.
Finale comes to DVD courtesy of Image Entertainment, and is presented in a solid 1.77:1 transfer that suitably recreates the grungy-yet-colorful look of the film. Audio is unremarkable, but I’m guessing that has more to do with the source than the mastering. Extras include deleted scenes, the film’s trailer, and a fantastic behind-the-scenes documentary that runs nearly as long as the film and should be required viewing for anyone considering making a low-budget horror film. While it looked like the filmmakers had a lot of fun making Finale, we also see the downside of indie-filmmaking, including the long hours, limited access to funds and locations, and the various disagreements/arguments that arise when a skeleton crew is forced to share a small house for the duration of a shoot. It’s really great stuff and, even if you hate the movie, it’s worth owning the DVD for this generous extra alone.
I have to say that Finale really did surprise me. While it’s certainly not the second coming of horror that all of its awards and lauds would suggest, it’s a pretty good little horror flick with a couple of strong performances from its leads (especially Picotte, for whom I would gladly bear children had I a womb), some nifty visuals, and indie-spirit and ingenuity in spades.