The Final: A Movie Review
I'm an optimist. Some might say that optimism is really only possible because I've been extremely lucky in life and while I wouldn't go that far, I would not argue half of that; I have been extremely lucky in life. I have a wonderful wife, pets that haven't driven me crazy yet, wonderful friends who I see multiple times a week, a God I believe in wholeheartedly, and there's a roof over my head. When things are going all right, it's very easy to be an optimist. But what I would argue is the idea that you have to be lucky to believe the glass is half-full. Even when I had none of the above, I was still mostly an optimist. Not as big of one, sure, but still I believed things happened for a reason and they generally worked out. My outlook might have been very different if things had been different in school, however
I'm a nerd, as if you couldn't tell. I've spent the last two weeks working on Lollipop Chainsaw and slogging my way through Golion, and in between I spend my free time making fun of tv shows aimed at teenagers and playing Dungeons & Dragons (4th edition, don't be hatin'). And it was pretty much the same when I was growing up. I generally got good grades without even trying (except Geometry; screw your theorems where the sun don't shine) and when I got home from school, I played video games. I wasn't in to sports, although I did go out for track when I was a senior, and I will neither confirm nor deny that there was a girl involved. I didn't go to dances, although I made it to prom with the cousin of a friend, and my parents were pretty taken aback by that considering how much of a wallflower I was. I did not go to parties because I didn't smoke or drink or dance or even date, really. But despite all of these winning qualities, I never really had to deal with bullying growing up.
Bullying is a real thing. It's a real problem and one that I am lucky to have never had to deal with and one I hope and pray my eventual children will never have to deal with. The Final is about bullying and the consequences involved, as a group of bullied children drug, kidnap, and torture their oppressors before either killing each other or killing themselves. It's an interesting idea but there are some major flaws in the film and their ultimate message (bullying is bad) is ultimately lost because of those flaws. And that's a shame, because if done properly, this could have been something special.
Minor things first. There are too many characters in this movie. The kids who fight back number at around half a dozen, give or take, but the bullies are much closer to like two dozen. You will not learn all of the characters names, on either side of the equation, and quite a lot of the bullies don't even seem to have a line in the movie. As a result of this surplus of characters, and the fact that the kids who fight back like to go joyriding on ATVs in the middle of the night in poor lighting, you can never really tell where people are in relation to the rest of the cast half the time. In addition to the gigantic cast of characters trapped in the death room, there's also a random Vietnam vet out in the wood whose picture is probably in the dictionary next to the word cliche. He could have been excised from the movie without any real problems; he really only serves to provide a gun to one of the characters and then kill a few of the torturers. Let me tell you, that gun could have shown up any number of ways that wouldn't involve that little bit of overacting.
But that's minor stuff and could be fixed easily. The bigger issue is that everyone in this movie is so one-dimensional it hurts the film. That may have been the point, as I'll get to in a paragraph or so, but even so, there is really nothing to distinguish a single character from any of their peers. There are a few stand-outs on the side of the bullies, but even those are weak. The main jock is a douche, through and through, but he's shown bulling the kids pretty viciously. The three bitchy girls stand out from the rest of the girls kidnapped in that they are given lines and an attempt at a personality, but really what is there to distinguish those three girls from each other? Well, one likes to steal boyfriends, and...nope, that's it. On the other side, there's the ringleader who believes he's on a Holy Crusade, but the rest of the bullied have no personality. Why are two brothers there? What about the guy with the banjo? Aside from the fact that that one kid owned a video camera, what is his distinguishing characteristic? What about the Token Female? They are all cyphers and bad ones at that.
There are so many characters here and they are drawn so broadly, it is hard to feel any sympathy for them. We're told these people have been bullied so atrociously that they reached the point of no return, but we are shown incredibly little of this. The Main Jock (ciphers, remember) throws milk at Token Minority at lunch, he breaks Camera Guy's camera, he threatens bodily harm to Holy Crusader, and I suppose you can extrapolate that he was probably a bully to the whole cast. But we're not shown that. The Three Bitches are mean to the Token Female for no reason but again, that is all we're shown. It's a visual medium; show and not tell is pretty key. The things the bullied do to their tormentors are truly awful, things that decent human beings should not do to each other. If you want me to accept that these punishments are just and reciprocal, you need to make me sympathize with the children who were victimized. And this movie doesn't do that, not by a long shot.
So what we get instead is torture porn. I think that term is overused (Saw, for instance is not torture porn; there is torture involved in those films, but the torture is generally used in service of the story and not to titillate), but when you don't spend time making us sympathize with the kids who were bullied and when you simply can't sympathize with the bullies themselves because they are little turds, all you have is people applying caustic facial cream to pretty girls, cattle guns going off in people's faces, and fingers being cut off with tin snips.
I said before that the characters are one-dimensional and that's probably the point here. At the end of the film, one of the characters says that "There are more like us out there." Director Jay Stewart and writer Jason Kabolati are giving us cyphers so that we can plug ourselves into one of the characters, but it bullied or bullies, and they want us to recognize that bullying is a very real issue and that kids can be drawn to snap. But the danger in being so one-dimensional is that you end up not caring what happens to either of the groups. How much better a film would this have been if the cast was cut by two thirds. Give us a group of five victims and give them five tormentors. You could flesh out both sides extensively and give us a true reason for why any one is acting like they are. The most fleshed out of the bullied here is the Token Minority. He's given the most crap by the Main Jock, his family is shown to be emotionally distant, and in the end he backs out, helping one of the kidnapped to escape. The reason I mention him only in passing is because he is immediately killed by Holy Crusader and then the movie goes on for another twenty damn minutes. His best friend, the Token Female, mourns him for all of five seconds and then goes back to forcing people to cut off their fingers.
How much better would this film be if it was just the Holy Crusader, the Token Female, and the Token Minority pitted against the Main Jock and the Three Bitches? Maybe then the message wouldn't get lost in the midst of violence for the sake of violence.