Well it seems “After Dark” finally pulled it off. They’ve finally brought aboard a movie in to their film festival that may be their most controversial to date. Watching “The Final” made me cringe and feel utterly disgusted all the way through because it’s such a volatile revenge fantasy that’s all too realistic to be taken as just a simple horror film. If you were old enough to experience the horror that was “Columbine” (I still have the newspaper) and the resulting aftermath, you’ll know that we’ve reached a point in our society where the bullied simply can’t take it anymore. Regardless of the circumstances or the lives they may destroy, sometimes people find little to no options in fixing their bullying problems other than resorting to brute violence. Do I condone it? No way. Is it a reasonable solution? No. But when you’re tormented day in and day out without anyone to properly help you, what little choice do you have?
I was tormented for three years every single day of my life, and I couldn’t turn to anyone, so the occasional homicidal thought popped in to my head which I thankfully never acted on. But it did ruin me for years and it took me a long time to rebuild my self-esteem and sense of self-worth. “The Final” deals with that same issue that, while a bit exploitative, does have its feet set in the true issues of kids being bulled non-stop and finding no other recourse to deal with their problems but to strike back with about as sadistic a way as possible. After Dane inherits a farm house from his dead uncle, he and his group of friends decide to make their bullies pay once and for all by inviting them to a party and wreaking pure utter payback to teach them a lesson. This situation allows them to drug their persecutors, and torture them for as long as possible allowing them to gain a look in to the psyches of their enemies and in themselves.
Even in a day and age where films like “Saw” and “Final Destination” are the cinema norms, director Joey Stewart’s horror film is ambitious and edgy and may just be despised by many audiences soon enough. But speaking as someone who took the brunt of humiliation I found the film relatable and I felt for these characters and their mission to gain some form of leverage once and for all. While the plot is set in motion early, Stewart uses this as a way to demonstrate their wrath to the audience showing them inflicting cringe inducing punishment on every unlucky party attendant. The performances are stunning with the likes of Marc Donato and Lindsay Seidel standing out among their respective cast who manage to garner the most pain involving a hunting knife, and a very disturbing reference to “Audition” that is just horrific in any shape or form. I especially reveled in the performance by Seidel whose character Emily has gone far beyond the brink of saving once she decides to slip on her mask and take sheer glee in torturing one of the partygoers ever so slowly.
Now what’s become a hot topic is what this film sets out to do. Does it endorse revenge on bullies? Or does it show that violence turns innocents in to monsters? Or does it explore the self-destruction and emptiness in seeking vengeance? Many people will have their own interpretation on this story and what Stewart is trying to convey and I’m not sure where I stand on this. But I will admit: I sympathized with the leads. Until you’ve been tortured in school you have no clue what these characters feel like. You know what it’s like to nearly vomit going in to your school wondering what torture you’re going to receive for the day? Do you know what it’s like praying to god that your persecutors won’t show up to school to grant you at least one day of peace? You know what it’s like to be utterly humiliated in front of the people you thought were your friends? You can’t honestly watch this movie and not feel for the characters and root them on even a little bit. Because I know what real bullying is like. It’s painful, it’s horrifying, and most of all it beats you down to a pulp.
And regardless of what you may think, at the end of the day the people who received true torment got what was coming to them, and in spite of the underdog finally getting their payback, no one really wins when the credits roll. This is the first “After Dark” film that’s left me winded after sitting through it. One thing that’s never explained is how the main characters were able to get all of their victims to the party. Was it by exclusive invitation? Were they handed out to them? And if it was by cell phone how did they get all of their numbers? And if it was through their numbers why didn’t anyone invite their brother or sister or friends to the party? That bit of logic is never fully explained thus it becomes a bout of suspension of disbelief in the end. The PC police are going to have a field day with what is basically an excellent revenge film that will bring in controversy no matter where it goes. While its plot does have minor holes, it’s otherwise a sick exercise in the darkness of humanity and what violence can bring us to brink of.