Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Final (2010)

A matter of perspective and consequences for actions

Five friends are going through a kind of Hell on Earth in high school where day to day they get bullied mentally and physically by the socially elite with no end or escape in sight. The bullies are the absolute caricatures of their type: the callous jocks and pretty things that have nothing better to do than to torment those that they feel are beneath them. The parents either don't understand or are impassive to what they're going through. They take matters into their own hands by planning and pumping themselves up for the courage to secure back their name and gain the upper hand. They all have their own little justifications for why they are going through with it but with the same end result in mind. The trap is a Saturday night invitation only costume party in an isolated area, with spiked punch inside and shackles so that their former bullies can be tortured one by one and have to endure volatile speeches about what grief they've caused. This isn't a culminating outburst that shows the years that follow like "Carrie," but a film that concentrates on returning the hurt and sending a much more blatant message.

This goes from giving a little sympathy for the originally bullied's impossible situation, then moves on over to absolute hate and revenge that doesn't just get even but goes over the mark, making the viewer question if they're any longer justified or if anyone here is actually good or bad, victim or villain on either side of the fence. This starts out with everyday high school life, moves on to a kind of exploitation where the captives get it in drawn out torture scenes, then runs on over to embrace social commentary on the subject by using an exceptional case with exaggeration to make a point about everything that comes before it as there isn't anything general or normal about the characters or their situation here. One interpretation of the events that sticks out like a sore thumb is: those who bully deserve not just an eye for an eye, but an eye for a finger...and a face...and a spine. Though since these guys, like Columbine, don't represent the normal teen all the way through I'd say the message is more: how we chose to treat others is at most times fairly simple in execution but what follows sometimes comes with irreversible consequences for our actions. That can be said about bullies in the halls of school, or returning the favor outside of school with worse tactics, until someone steps up to stop the downward spiral

The fear in this film is produced by how far it can be taken from someone who is so over the edge that they don't care about the consequences since they have nothing to lose during school and at home. There are some general relating points, though it's up to you if you should be rooting for the plan to succeed or hope they get away or maybe an option C. Then again this has two-wrongs-don't-make-a-right type of scenarios where the bad guys in the film are just badder than the last, making this carry a somewhat bleaker tone because this isn't entirely resolved in its running time but instead the major resolution is supposed to come with the audience watching.

The personalities of the captures seem to partly mirror Columbine in that the leader displays a form of psychosis or be it psychotic behavior and the others carry a form of extreme depression that would make them more susceptible to follow. It's also true that they bounced back and forth detached plans and ideas from a normal reality--Columbine with tapes made in their basement--off only each other without outside influences who might have interjected by saying what they're doing isn't right. It's obvious to an outsider looking in but not to someone neck deep in delusional thoughts. There are inconsistencies amongst their personalities, but it does show that they're being human and that they can't handle the situation that came about by a kind of luck of the draw.

The issue with "The Final" is the general tone of the picture is hard to grasp at points, as it often missteps on blending together entertainment and a message without its seams showing. It wants to be a horror movie but also a heavy satire. It indeed does both, but not equally well at the same time. In the story, the master plan doesn't go as smoothly when someone steps out of line, another lets it go to his head, as well as an outside character tries to intervene. Though there's often little real anticipation, tension or sense of the dramatic here, especially once the torture begins. Take the easy and well known example of Jason in "Friday the 13th" in that he chases pretty looking young people around a wooded area only to kill them in different and grisly ways. Yeah, it's going completely for titillation but the time in between adds to the impact when it happens. "The Final," on the other hand, feels gratuitous in that the sadism is level across the board with tied up captives who are easily taken on one by one with those with the upper hand not always giving more leeway to the game they're playing. If they were trying to desensitize for whatever reason, then they did a decent job of it. It makes the time in between feel overlong and like it could have been edited down somewhat. The picture doesn't seem to always steadily or progressively build and it starts to bog down from going anywhere substantial enough to reel in your wandering attention despite people being hurt.

The is a daring movie that doesn't just open up the obvious can of worms with bullying and school life, but also violence and pacification, the right to bear arms and easy accessibility to high powered fire arms, some religious justifications and a little politics on war with a veteran. If they threw in how much money everyone makes, this film would be up there with one of the worst conversation starters at your job. It's gotta be on HR blacklists everywhere. The movie isn't subtle about what it's trying to say by its close, to the point of feeling like the scriptwriter speaking directly through the characters with well-defined realizations that cross the line for the likelihood of actually being said by someone on the spot. It starts out by taking a somewhat reserved standing for the audience to decide where they are and then by its wrap-up it's delivering the messages home for the viewer who might not have had their thinking caps on. I'm guessing they wanted to make it known that they weren't just making "Hostel" and "Saw" part whatever, but only using the format for other means, which makes sense, but still leaves those sentiments dangling in your face.

Overall, what brings "The Final" down, despite its possible good intentions and ability to start debates and conversations from it, which can't always be said about some other films once the credits roll, is it still feels like more of a concept than a fully realized or fleshed out story. The actors are hit and miss with attempting to make this ambitious film come together, whether it's going from a black comedic tone--ala "Heathers"--to not believably performing dramatically compared to their regular selves or be it generating suspense and scares, and that can take one out of the experience that they are actually watching a film. It's something that reads much better on paper than how it pans out for a full length cinematic experience. I can't say I'd recommend this for the overall experience unless you're able to have an easier time compensating for its setbacks.

Rating: 4/10

From Black to Red recommends instead: "Battle Royale": this Japanese film has some social commentary about high school life, among other aspects such as downsizing of the population. It's capable of blending messages in its story while still maintaining a certain amount of entertainment for the duration.

Director: Joey Stewart
Link: IMDB

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