JUNE 26, 2010
I’m sure I’ve seen films with less confused morality than The Final, but none are coming to mind right now. In 95 minutes, writer/producer Jason Kabolati never manages to make any sort of point, which I think should be a priority for any horror film that would remind someone of Columbine or similar tragedies. By never really identifying with either the bullies or the outcasts who take revenge on them, the movie just becomes a pointless “torture porn” exercise, and a boring one at that.
Some SPOILERS are ahead.
See, there are only about 10 minutes’ worth of seeing the bullies ridicule our protagonists, and that’s pretty much all they do - ridicule them. One gets his camera broken, but otherwise they just make fun of the goth girl for being ugly (and she’s not, if anything she’s the most attractive female cast member, but that’s the least of this movie’s problems), make stereotypical 7-11 jokes at the expense of the Indian guy, and... well, we don’t even see them doing anything to the 5 or 6 other outcasts (including the “leader” of the group), so who knows what their problem is. Maybe they suck in gym class or something. And yet, before we know how they were wronged or even what all of their names are, they’re setting their plan in motion - they will host a fake party, invite only the bullies, drug them, and make them torture each other. Not even the worst idea, but the lack of characterization for the outcasts, the ones we’re supposed to feel SORRY for, keeps it from having any of the moral ambiguity that would make such a scenario compelling.
On the other hand, the bullies are so generic (and largely played by not-very-good actors), it almost seems like a farce of some sort, with the hot girls actually talking about how hot they are in their own privacy, and the jock dudes smoking weed and yelling about how excited they are to “PARTY!!! WHOOO!!!!” while they drive erratically. So we have two types of characters in this movie: generic bullies, and “oppressed” introverts whose names aren’t even easily identifiable. It's one thing to paint your characters in broad strokes, it's another to make all of them so bland and interchangeable (one of the "bullies" looks nerdier than any of the "nerds", in fact) that you're not even sure which ones we're supposed to root for. I began rooting for the "character" of Unseen Military Error, in the form of a mis-targeted nuke that would kill the whole lot of them.
But that doesn't happen. In fact, nothing really does. A good 50% of the movie is just the main outcast guy standing above all of the bullies, rambling on and on while they rock back and forth or whimper. Apart from the occasional torture scene (nothing too disturbing beyond an Audition-inspired acupuncture session), it’s just talk; uninteresting, generic talk. The only other action surrounds the only decent character in the movie, a would-be rapper who gets free and tries to get help. For some reason they almost instantly have him get tied up by a neighbor (who thinks he’s a robber), so now he’s just tied up in a different room listening to someone drone on and on, same as he was in the other house. But eventually he gets free (again) and goes back to rescue his friends, which paves the way for the anticlimactic ending, where none of the bullies are killed and the outcasts more or less kill each other or themselves. So again, what the fuck is the point? The moral of the story seems to be “If you are picked on, you should try to get revenge, but ultimately become even more of a coward.” There’s a touch of irony in the epilogue, in which the bullies return to their lives, now the outcasts themselves due to the injuries they endured over the course of the movie (acid in the face, a chopped off finger, etc), but it’s too little too late, and it’s pretty obvious to boot.
It’s also not much to write home about on a technical level. There’s a scene early on which has to set the record for most shifts in the color timing in a single scene (something the director at least acknowledges on the commentary), and the editing decisions are largely insane. Apparently there was a scene cut that would explain who the other 3 outcasts were keeping watch outside, and why they had on the same outfits as the ones inside, so as a result things just seem confusing, as there’s only a single throwaway line explaining that they have employed three others to watch outside (nothing about the outfits), so it looks like certain characters are in two places at once. Yet they have TWO montages of our five main outcasts putting on their masks.
Director Joey Stewart also botches one of his few interesting directorial choices, which is to take a page from Spielberg and “never” show any adults without obscuring their face in some way. It’s something I noticed right off the bat (my first note says “ET”), as they are always turned around, or behind a newspaper, or whatever. The only exception (at first) is the neighbor guy, so it just tips off that he’ll be important. But then later a cop is shown in full, and he’s never important. So whatever. I actually thought maybe it was just something I imagined, or a coincidence, but it was pointed out on the commentary as well.
The track is just as pointless as the movie, with Stewart and Kabolati congratulating themselves on pretty much everything, and explaining simple “no shit” things as if we’re as dumb as the characters in the film. Like early on, when a teacher is talking about how one of the generals in the Han Dynasty would disfigure his enemy rather than kill them, and Stewart helpfully points out that its foreshadowing what happens later. But should I expect anything more insightful from the 2nd unit director of Midgets Vs. Mascots? An annoying “making of” (mostly just an outtake reel and various cast/crew trying to be funny), a pointless deleted scene (not the one that would help explain the aforementioned plot hole), and two trailers for the film round things out, continuing the trend of this year’s After Dark Fest having feature-heavy DVDs after last year’s largely bare-bones lineup.
Hilariously, the director himself offers the most useful thought on the entire disc. When defending his poor sense of continuity, he sums it up by offering this to independent filmmakers: “Don’t spend countless hours on things that don’t matter.” Too bad he didn’t follow his own advice. The best thing I can say about this movie is that it’s not as bad as (fellow ADF4 entry) The Graves.
What say you?
Full disclosure - I was picked on in 1st and 2nd grade by a kid named Rob who was 3 years older, due to my big ears and thick glasses. Never considered throwing acid on the dude's face though. Mainly I just hoped he'd leave me alone, which he eventually did. And I had already been into horror movies at that point!