Another first time outing for the revenge story The Final, though director Joey Stewart has a substantial assistant director credits. Writer Jason Kabolati has a few credits, too. And the cast is fairly experienced, too. I mention this for no reason in particular.
The Final is the story of two sets of clichés at odds with each other. Clichés that would’ve made John Hughes blush. On the one side you have the jocks and cheerleaders. On the other, the outcasts. The former, naturally, torment the latter. And then, the icing on the cliché cake: The cool kid (the only black kid in the school, natch) who bridges the two worlds.
When I say cliché, I’m not talking mild similarities, either, to school archetypes. The “popular” kids are so incredibly cruel to the geeks, and in such typical ways, while the geeks themselves are just a little more varied, that there’s virtually no reason to add any characterization. You’re not surprised that the alpha jock is cheating on his girlfriend, and you could probably guess what class the banjo player is when he plays D&D. (Druid.)
Is this bad? Well, not necessarily. It’s easy to instantly hate the villains, which is always good considering the protagonists’ are going to do terrible things to them. The protags are blandly inoffensive at worst, really—they actually don’t do anything overtly geeky, or anything at all, really. It’s a very one-sided story.
The villains are so villainous, that when the outcasts trick them, drug them and capture them, you’re not really feeling sorry for them. You don’t feel all that sympathetic for the outcasts either, though, curiously. The whole thing doesn’t resonate much.
Actually, this also isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the outcasts do some pretty horrible things. Acids, cattle guns, gun guns, traps, etc. If you really felt deeply for anyone, it would be an awful experience. As a morality play acted out by symbols, it’s much more bearable.
Some of the effects are weirdly bloodless. They’re cuttin’ off fingers (e.g.) right and left, but not much blood comes out.
Oh, yeah. There’s a crazed Vietnam vet, too. He looked a little young to me, but I guess the last troops came out in 1973, so I guess he was plausible. (He didn’t look much older than I, but I look old.) Anyway, seems like those guys are getting long in the tooth to keep being the go-to-troops for crazy.
Anyway, the whole thing sort of lopes along. There were some moments where the director came very close to giving us some great, Hitchcockian suspense, but those were safely bypassed without much excitement. The story elements are all there but not really fully engaged. So, there’s close calls and betrayals and surprises but none of it really grabs you.
Again, not necessarily a bad thing.
Then it’s over. The characters, the audience, and I guess the filmmakers, have had enough.
They didn’t screw up the ending. I think there was a real attempt to make it plausible. (There were some rumors about being based on a true story. Don’t believe it. The school torment plausibly was; the violent retribution? Not so much.)
I’m dunno. The whole thing felt a little conflicted. Like it didn’t want to be there. On the one hand, there’s no torture porn aspect, i.e., you’re not expected to enjoy it. (Or if that was intended, it wasn’t successful.) On the other hand, the violence feels understated—not really as horrible and visceral as it would really be.
It comes off kind of paper thin, such that the stinger kind of makes you go, “Oh. I get it,” without really feeling anything.
The Boy kind of liked it, but it didn’t knock our socks off.