Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Final (2010)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest IV.

Preface: I really liked The Final a lot. It's not a flawless film, but I really enjoyed the premise, and how it was dealt with. Basically you have a group of outcasts exacting revenge (inspired from watching lots of horror films) on the popular kids that bully them mercilessly. So there's definitely a "revenge fantasy" feeling to the film. Although, it's not totally glorified, because it's apparent that what these outcasts are doing is merely perpetuating the cycle of violence. Yet, while you can't condone it, you feel they deserve it. But where the real beauty of the film comes in is in offering the solution - which does not come in the form of cute platitudes about "forgiving and forgetting", but in reaching out and asking people to examine their own behavior, to determine whether they are similarly contributing to this cycle of violence, or if they are like the one character in the film who stands up to the bullies, befriends the bullied, and offers the only hope for salvation - not for those already afflicted, but for those potential victims and victimizers of the future.

The Final

The plot of The Final is pretty straightforward - a group of high school outcasts lure the popular kids into a trap where they then exact torturous revenge on their lifelong bullies. I wondered if there was going to be some kind of twist, or if the suspense would come just from seeing whether or not the outcasts get to pull off their revenge and how they do it. As it turns out, the film is a great, if dramatized, study of the dynamics that lead to Columbine-style massacres. The characters and situations are a bit exaggerated from reality, but I can accept that it enhances the dramatic nature of the story, being that this is a horror film and not a documentary.

What the movie does is, it lets you sympathize with the plight of the outcasts, even as they exact their revenge. Violence doesn't justify violence, and what the outcasts do in retribution is at least as bad, if not worse, than what the bullies did to start with. Except that the main difference is where the bullies' torture was mostly psychological (though certainly not entirely), the outcasts' revenge is a lot more focused on physical torture (though again, not without psychology factoring in). And while you can't really condone the outcasts' sadistic revenge, you can't blame them for it either.

And where does that leave us, as viewers and as a society? There is one character in the film that bridges the gap between the outcasts and the bullies. He's friends with both groups, hanging out with the popular kids, yet sticking up for the bullied. And he gets caught up in the middle of the outcasts' revenge scheme (they didn't want to hurt him). He's the only student that's really innocent of the violence and torture (whether as bullying or retribution), and he's really the only one that's in a position to demand a stop to it. And in a perfect world, that's what would happen. But this isn't a perfect world, and the damage that has already been done cannot be undone - not by any amount of honor and sacrifice and empathy.

But what the leader of the outcast group says to this character, is that in a better world, there would be more like him. And that's exactly what the film is asking - it's asking more of us to be like this guy. To stand up to bullies, and not give in to the cowardly impulses we have that encourage us to prey on others. The bullies are responsible for the outcasts' vengeance, yet that vengeance still cannot be justified. We can't change what's past, but we can look ahead to the future, and try to reduce bullying, and its disastrous results, one act at a time. And I think that's the central theme of the film, as embodied in this line:

"Think of this as The Final. And there's only one question: what did I do to deserve this?"

Break the cycle of bullying - don't be a party to it, and don't let it happen around you.

Superficial comments: The fact that thirty year old teenagers is a common casting theme doesn't excuse it; however, this film is good enough (and not totally dependent on the characters being actual teenagers) that it doesn't significantly distract from the impact of the film. One of the torture sequences was definitely an homage to Audition, which I appreciated greatly. I wonder how much of the rest of the movie payed specific homage to horror classics (there is a scene where the outcasts are discussing their plan, and they mention how they're going to put to practical use all that time spent watching horror movies).

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