Dir. Joey Stewart
Tired of being the victims of a routine of endless bullying by the high school jocks and their socially superior girlfriends, a group of awkward students decide to turn the tables and plot to avenge the years of humiliation to which they’ve been subjected. Driven by their deadly vendetta and suicidal tendencies, they gather their tormentors in an isolated barn, under the guise of a highly exclusive party, and begin a long night of retribution that is certain to leave several of the guests if not dead, then at least scarred for life, both emotionally and physically…
The Final, the debut feature from director Joey Stewart, is at times an uneven and ambiguously centred film that can’t quite decide if it’s a righteous-revenge fantasy or the latest ‘torture-porn’ flick. Since the Columbine massacre shed light on the dark trend of US high school massacres, several films such as Elephant, Zero Day and The Class have attempted to tackle the subject with varying degrees of success. The Final is the latest to broach this volatile subject, and it attempts to set itself apart from its peers by filtering its already grim subject matter through a cruelly sadistic ‘torture-porn’ aesthetic. Tension is built gradually as we catch glimpses and are privy to snippets of secretive conversations between the outcasts involving their plans to take revenge. However, once the bullies are all gathered together in the same location and are at the mercy of their tormented captors, director Stewart doesn’t really seem to know how to proceed.
For a flick that sells itself on its promise of graphic, intense and extreme imagery, it doesn’t really show us very much. What it does attempt though is the engagement in various debates on issues such as morality, retribution, loyalty and suffering. Discussions about the Han Dynasty and the nature of vigilante revenge and cruelty bulk up the discussions of an otherwise Breakfast Club-like group of stock types. Stewart attempts a little light-hearted, though pointed social commentary through the group’s revelation that horror movies formed the basis of their research and inspiration - the disguises they don are all references to various horror films.
At times The Final straddles some quite dark, though admittedly still very two dimensional stuff. The bullied characters all come from socially deprived, broken homes. They wallow within the confines of their slight, dark bedrooms, philosophising various concepts and the value of their own existence. While none of the characters are particularly likeable, they are at least realistic in that they all exhibit unsavoury and all-too-human traits such as selfishness, cowardice, weakness, uncertainty and ambivalence. The film packs its greatest punches when the torment of the bullied teens is played out in the harsh light of the school corridors. Anyone who was bullied in school might find themselves wincing or squirming during a number of these encounters – mainly because of how the all-too-relatable and frustrated helplessness of the victims is so effectively handled. Their fear and anger bubbles to the surface, but they just can’t find the strength to fight back and stand up for themselves. Their lack of self-worth is palpable.
The action at times feels as static as the bound and gagged bullies. Having said that, The Final does ratchet up the tension in a number of scenes, and offers genre fans a few nasty references to Audition and Deliverance. Interestingly, or outrageously, depending on your schtick, parallels between high-school bully antics and terrorism are drawn. This group of teens view themselves as avenging angels of destruction, willing to sacrifice themselves for a greater good. The conviction with which they have approached their revenge is chilling in the minutiae of its execution. The old ‘who are the real monsters?!’ debate is rolled out and tossed around for a bit, while the notion of ‘Frankenstein Syndrome’ is given an interesting slant: the captured bullies are tormented by ‘monsters’ they essentially had a hand in creating. A Vietnam war veteran is also thrown into the mix with uneven results, as he offs the very generation he ‘fought to save.’
The Final is a striking looking film boasting moody cinematography and beautiful art direction, which should prove a memorable shock-fest for the more intellectually minded gore-hound; though it never quite manages to exhibit the power it so often hints it possesses, despite its devastatingly bleak ending.
The Final (cert. 18) is released by Chelsea Films and will be available to buy on DVD from 23rd August 2010.