Movie Review: “The Final”

   About five years ago, I happened upon this film The Final, wedged unceremoniously into a horror pack for about five dollars, give or take. I can’t say I remember the rest of the films included and, in all likelihood, I probably didn’t watch all of them. Unceremonious or not, don’t be mistaken, I do love buying large bulk collections, and it has led to me discovering a lot of horror films I would likely never have discovered otherwise. In fact, for a while, it really was something I did a lot, creating a largescale collection of horror flicks, most of which I never even watched. That’s the detriment of horror collections like that.

   As a filmmaker, it only makes sense you would want your film to be seen by as many people as possible. Thus, a production company pools all these low-budget films together, hoping the sheer sum of it all will optimize potential sales. This makes sense, but then, as a result, you risk diluting the distinctiveness and individuality of each film. They became a faceless name in what can often feel like an impersonal, laborious product. This is different from a boxset, for instance, like, say, a Universal Monster movie pack, not only because the amount of care that goes into it, but, also, the cohesion of each film working together. The packs are usually a plain copy-and-paste insertion, with multiple films bunched together on a single disc.

   This is not something you see that often any more, rather, what you see instead, is a lot of films stockpiled onto streaming services, dumped and buried atop one another. This is part of the reason why I wanted to do Ever Dafter, if only because it allows me to wade through some of the content and see what might not be receiving attention I feel it is deserving of.

   The film was released in early 2010 and was a participant in the 2012 After Dark Horrorfest. Written by Jason Kabolati and directed by Joey Stewart, the film comprises its cast of names like Jascha WashingtonJulinJustin S. ArnoldLindsay SeidelMarc DonatoLaura Ashley SamuelsRyan Hayden, and Travis Tedford. For most of you, I would imagine none of those names ring many bells for you. This is because most of the talent involved either made their debut in this film or have not yet really broken out in a major way. For instance, this was Joey Stewart’s directorial debut and, thus far, the only film he has directed, with a lot of his other credentials found in other behind-the-scenes roles.

   When I first watched this film, I had a generally pleasant response to it. At the very least, I had a pleasant enough response to it that I am now revisiting the film and talking about it to you now. The film is ambitious in at least one respect, in that it has a very grisly subject-matter behind it.

   The Final’s story is about a group of teenagers who are bullied and taunted by their classmates at school. This inspires them to take matters into their own hands and extract revenge against them. Although it was a controversial topic back then, no doubt, the concept of school shootings and the like has only become more and more enshrouded with controversy. This film, in itself, is not exactly about school shootings, per se, but is about a group of teenagers tricking their classmates into coming to a party at a secluded house in the woods, and then, subsequently, torturing them.

   Personally, I believe that horror is a deceptively nuanced genre, and one that has rules about its subject-matter and how the subject-matter is perceived that can sometimes feel difficult to understand. For instance, a slasher film more often than not follows a group of teenagers who are stalked and murdered by a masked assailant. Generally, I think most devout horror fans can disassociate ourselves from the characters in a slasher film better than we can in another subgenre.

   The act of murder, at least in a lot of those films, is cartoonish in nature, with overzealous bloodshed and zany glamorization. And yet, in that same breath, if you look at something like A Nightmare on Elm Street, where the original concept called for Freddy Krueger to be a child predator, I feel most of us would not be offended by Freddy killing children, but we might be if we thought he was molesting them. At the very least, it would change our perception about the film on a fundamental level, be it because of our own beliefs or how society responds to it. Thus, while The Final is ultimately a film about masked assailants murdering teenagers, I think that it might hit a little closer to home for many people.

   The execution is a mixed-bag, at times, although, I do think the film considerably improves once it has the opportunity to sink its teeth into its core concept. Early on, we are treated to examples and instances involving our main characters mistreated and bullied, which have varied realism. Films can oftentimes overplay harassment and mistreatment, and although, I can absolutely believe a racist douchebag mocking an Indian boy by imitating a telemarketer, everything is a little too over-the-top and overstated in the portrayal. Although I can’t vouch for every experience, often I found that bullying was less cartoon sitcom and more understated and nuanced. This film, however, portrays it in a more deliberately in your face fashion, and I understand the goal is to establish the dynamic quickly, but it feels like it does a disservice to what could have been a more thoughtful representation.

  It does, however, fit with the rest of the film – which does not, in fact, try for a serious white-knuckled approach, but, instead, feels like it lands more on the comic-book side of things. Our main characters don masks and elaborate getups, and one of them stands in-front of their bullies, spouting a melodramatic speech as his voice is altered to sound hidden and more intense.

   Which, by the way, I did not mind.

   In-fact, I found it interesting the way the character went from being a shy introverted type to a more confident, mean methodical type once he had the spotlight, and the actor came off very true in that respect.

   The costumes, as well, do add a lot of style to the film, and are most of the reason why I remember the film as well as I do. They look cool, and the way they had one of the characters play the banjo methodically in the background while they tormented their bullies was inspired.

   The story itself, I feel, has a lot of fluff to it that I think could have been trimmed down considerably. The film clocks out at a little over ninety minutes, which is not long by any real standard. That said, the concept does not feel fleshed out enough to justify it. In fact, in a lot of ways, I feel this film would have been better suited as a half hour short film in an anthology rather than a full length production.

   Either that, or the film could have pulled more from the core idea of our masked main characters tormenting and challenging their bullies, and not from incorporating other subplots like it did instead. This is because there is a subplot that plays a pivotal role in the film’s payoff involving one character named Kurtis who escapes the house and is taken again by the neighbor who is an elderly war veteran, and they build this relationship, … , and it feels very not necessary.

   If you take that away though, which I would preferred, then, the dynamic does feel off. In the context of this film, you have students restrained and you have students with weapons. I would imagine the idea is to cheer for the students who are restrained. They were bad people, but they are young kids and I should not want to see them tortured for it, and yet, because of how cartoonish certain aspects feel, that doesn’t feel like it is being relayed. How often do you watch a slasher film and hear someone say something sexist, racist, or otherwise awful, and think to yourself, “Oh, I hope he’s next,” because of that dissociation we have instilled in us for the characters? Because this film feels so conflicting, it can feel like its momentum is working against itself.

   Likewise, the final line delivered by one of our killers would feel haunting and profound had they played things a little straighter, but, instead, feels like it lost some of the wind in its sails a little bit.

   I would offer a recommendation for The Final to horror enthusiasts who are more acclimated to certain pitfalls of the genre. As I mentioned earlier with movie packs and browsing streaming services for hidden gems, this is a film I would watch and walk away from satisfied. It is not a great film, but it is not a boring film either, and has elements that help it standout in some respects.

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