The Final (2010)

DVD Cover (Lions Gate)
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Dane, an awkward student with a deadly vendetta, leads a group of outcasts who plot to avenge the years of humiliation they faced by the popular students at Hohn High School. The outcasts turn the tables on the popular students who made sport of them and prepare for a single night that will leave their tormentors scarred for life. --Amazon
Review by Chad
Added: May 27, 2010
High school can be a living hell if you get on the bad side of the jocks / cheerleaders / "in crowd" or whatever particular clique your school may have had, and if you just so happen to be one of the "weird" kids, well... those might be some of the worst years of your life. I can only imagine how horrific it would be to wake up every morning for at least four years knowing that those kids would be verbally and possibly physically abusing you for the next eight hours, and though I don't condone it, I can certainly see why some kids would snap and bring their daddy's gun to school as a form of payback. That's the premise for tonight's film, and I sort of expected an exploitative take on the subject. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find a slick thriller inspired by but by no means emulating the dying torture porn craze.

We begin in a typical high school in a small country town, where we meet Dane (Marc Donato), Ravi (Vincent Silochan), Emily (Lindsay Seidel), and a handful of their friends, and we quickly discover that this group of kids are the outcasts at this school. Dane doesn't fit in with the jocks or the cool kids and is mercilessly tormented by them, Ravi happens to be an Indian and is constantly humiliated for his heritage, and Emily gets her fair share of humiliation just because she doesn't fit in with the preppy girls. Kurtis (Jascha Washington) is the only one outside of their clique who will stand up for them, but even he goes back and forth between the groups, not really fitting in with either but on pleasant terms with both. The outsiders finally decide that enough is enough, and they decide to throw a party that this school will never forget.

The plan is to pass out invitations to the twenty'ish worst offenders, inviting them to a costume party at an abandoned house on the outskirts of town. There, the bullies will be drugged, chained up, and tortured to their breaking points. They will not be killed, however: the goal here is to disfigure them and break them, so that when they get on with their lives later, they will discover what it's like to not be one of the social elite. After all, how can the star football player go on with no fingers? How can the most beautiful girl in school hope to retain that status with a horribly scarred face? This is the plan, but as with any good plan, things happen that weren't accounted for, beginning with Kurtis showing up to the party uninvited. Do they let him go since he was nice to them, knowing that he will run straight to the police? This is only the beginning of their problems, but regardless, there will be plenty of pain passed out before the night is through.

I know what you're thinking: this film will provide a quick plot device to explain the violence, and this will be followed by ninety minutes of blood and gore to appease the Saw fanatics. Roll the credits, and you've got yourself a disposable slice of torture porn. Hell, I'm fine with that (I did give the movie a rental, after all), but was I expecting cinematic greatness? Hardly. This is where the movie shocked me, as it does not aim to please the lowest common denominator; in fact, there's actually very little of the red stuff. Oh, sure, there are some nasty scenes, but this is far from treading into Saw territory. The filmmakers chose to instead deliver a gripping thriller that relied more on storytelling and pacing than special effects and buckets of blood, and the result was a film that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The character development also played a large part in my enjoyment, as neither side was really portrayed as the "good guys" or the "bad guys." It may seem obvious here - the sadistic torturers are evil, the victims are the good guys - but it's really not that simple. The beginning of the movie makes us feel sympathy for those outcasts, and though their eventual actions may take things a little too far, it's hard to say that their victims didn't have some form of retribution coming their way. Still, even knowing what they did to prompt this, one does start to feel a little sympathy for the victims here as well, and this makes watching the film an emotional tug-of-war: who should we be cheering here?

The cast made the film work even better than it could have, even if a few of the cast members looked a lot older than a high school student should. That's to be expected, I suppose, but the leads definitely made up for it with solid performances. Marc Donato in particular is excellent as the leader of the outcasts, and based solely on his work here, I'd certainly pick up more movies with him in it. Justin Arnold plays one of the main bullies, and again, this is a man who is damned capable of playing a character that we can easily hate. He is the one exception to my above statement about "sympathy for the victims" in that I looked forward to him getting everything he had coming and then some, and that is a testament to the actor more so than the character. I won't go down the list for the rest of the cast, but I will say that there are no bad performances: some were adequate and some were just average, but none of them were horrible.

If you couldn't tell, I really have nothing but praise for The Final. It may not go on to land a spot in my year-end list, but I can easily give it a solid recommendation for fans of well-written thrillers with a message to deliver. 9/10.
C L #1: C L - added 05/07/2011, 08:48 PM
I watched this last night and I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more gore, but it was well made and nice performances across the board. 7/10
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