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Case Number 18614: Small Claims Court

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The Final

Lionsgate // 2010 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // March 29th, 2010

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge Tom Becker wants a re-test.

The Charge

There are no multiple choices.

The Case

It's Any Rural High USA, and the geeky kids are consistently bullied by the good-looking, popular crowd. But now, the geeks have planned revenge. Inspired by their love of horror movies, they've surreptitiously planned a costume party and invited all their attractive tormentors. The bullies are too stupid and self-absorbed to find out exactly who's throwing the bash, so they dress up like hot cops (the girls) and hunky gladiators (the boys) and descend on an out-of-the-way farmhouse, never dreaming that the masked strangers ladling out laced punch are actually the objects of their scorn and derision.

Nor do the jocks and princesses realize that all the abuse they've spent years dishing out is about to hit them squarely—and literally—in their pretty faces.

Geek vengeance is such a staple of horror movies that I've lost count of how many times I've seen a cool kid getting the business end of a sharp object as penance for unkind behavior. The Final takes this hackneyed conceit and adds an ugly twist: rather than the usual monster-in-a-mask shenanigans in which unruly youths are hunted and slaughtered, the geeks here don't have murder on their minds.

Instead, these mice are going to roar by crippling and disfiguring the bullies and letting them live. Faces are burned off, fingers amputated, a spinal cord severed, and the head geek makes long-winded speeches about retribution while the victimizers-turned-victims whimper, cower, and beg. While all this makes The Final different from the average slasher/vengeance movie, it doesn't necessarily make it better.

The Final is a profoundly unpleasant film that ends up being far more depressing than exciting. Sure, the bullies are nasty—as is the wont of bullies—but do they deserve to be hideously scarred for life because they pantsed some kid in the ninth grade? The long, drawn-out scenes of methodical mutilation are just horrifying, and once things get going, we naturally sympathize with the kids we were set up to dislike. As far as bullies go, this bunch is relatively benign; they're mean, haughty, and bigoted (at least toward a kid from India), but they're not setting people on fire or dropping pigs blood on anyone like the great bullies of yesteryear.

There's a silly, if slightly shameful, visceral thrill to watching a (usually superhuman) killer decimate a bunch of kids at a summer camp or on a train or at a prom, or wherever. We've signed on for the kills and thrills, and we're not there to sympathize, empathize, or consider long-range consequences (Muffy's parents will be so sad that their daughter's impaled on a pitchfork!). It's so over the top that it only exists in that moment.

Watching a pretty girl have her face slowly eaten away by acid is not fun. There's no horror movie "kick" in watching kids have their fingers cut off while they're begging for mercy. Long speeches about how the bullies deserve to have their lives ruined because they weren't nice to the geeks are poor substitutes for the classic "chase through the woods" or "hide in a closet" moments that are the lifeblood of horror films. These speeches also don't make any more palatable the disgusting and unsettling business happening on screen.

The film takes itself very seriously. There's no humor here, nor is there any sex, and there isn't any kind of mystery or puzzle involved, like the Saw family. This is really more of a crime film than a horror movie.

The Final is one of the After Dark Horrorfest's "8 Films to Die For." A couple of years ago, I reviewed another Horrorfest offering, Borderland, which was also more or less a crime drama and based on real events, as The Final purports to be. The difference is that while Borderland had a compelling story to tell, The Final doesn't really have much to say at all.

We all know how miserable it is to be a high school outcast, and here and there, the film tosses us the kind of generalized justifications you hear in discussions of school violence (the influence of horror movies, the chance to be Internet sensations). The adults who should be monitoring these kids are always shown either from the waist down or with their backs to the camera, driving home the point of how directionless these teens are. But there's no real follow-through on these ideas.

Instead, we wind up with the usual stupid horror conventions, including boneheaded decisions on the part of the victims and a tied up guy screaming, "I'm not afraid of you!" after he's witnessed his friends having their faces burned off. Also, the cool kids and jocks are strikingly passive; they're in chains, but have enough freedom of movement that when someone points a sharp object at them, they should at least be able to try to push it away or even grab one of their tormentors and try to turn the tables. The outcasts' plan is also fairly elaborate, involving a conveniently abandoned and isolated house, a sophisticated knowledge of anatomy and chemistry, and the good fortune that everyone will consume glasses of spiked-with-a-sleep-aid punch at exactly same the moment, that the drug will effect everyone at around the same moment, that no one will catch on when they see their friends collapsing around them and try to escape or call for help.

If the vengeance had taken the form of inflicting less permanent damage—a little humiliation, a couple of broken bones, that sort of thing—this might have worked. Instead, director Joey Stewart and writer Jason Kabolati bookend their story with scenes of one of the formerly pretty and now disfigured girls being stared at, pitifully, at a burger joint. We feel sad for her, and in another movie, she might be the main character and this story about how her life has changed after being scarred. Instead, this is played like the typical horror end scene, for shock value, but along with a few other end scenes showing how lives have been ruined (including the geeks), you walk away with a sense of despair.

I'm generally not a big fan of commentaries, particularly for recent films. While tracks done for classics can offer up trivia, analysis, and context, newer films usually give us people jabbering about minutia that was interesting if you were there ("Remember how hard it was to get that shot?") but not so compelling to listen to ("And wasn't he great to work with?"). As a rule, they neither add to nor detract from the viewing experience.

The commentary for The Final, with Stewart and Kabolati, is a rarity in that it actually made me like the film less than I already did. Besides the backslapping, they relentlessly point out the obvious—like we need to have geek misery dissected even more than it's presented on screen—and, since this is a high school revenge movie, naturally they invoke Columbine and other such tragedies. Given how disturbing and sour this film is, I really thought that maybe they were trying to make some larger statement, but all their inane chatter about how scary this is supposed to be, along with the constant referencing to other, superior films ("Here's our homage to No Country for Old Men") suggested otherwise. At one point, they explain—like they needed to—that a teacher's lecture on an ancient civilization in which enemies were disfigured but kept alive rather than killed serves as the inspiration for the geeks' plan; they might have also mentioned contemporary atrocities such as thuggish fanatics in Afghanistan throwing acid in the faces of schoolgirls to dissuade women from seeking an education.

But I guess that would take all the "fun" out of this torturesploitation mess.

The other supplements are a useless "Behind the Scenes" number that tosses in a few random quotes for the actors but mainly gives us outtakes, and a couple of trailers. The image is solid and the audio strong.

The Verdict

Well made, but a nasty piece of work. I can't call it bad, but I can't recommend it, either.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Crime
• Drama
• Horror
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Featurette
• Trailers


• IMDb

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