Dale (Marc Donato) takes group therapy to a whole new level in "The Final".

Dale (Marc Donato) takes group therapy to a whole new level in "The Final".

Directed by: Joey Stewart
Written by: Jason Kabolati
Starring: Marc Donato, Lindsey Seidel, Julin, Jascha Washington, Whitney Hoy, Justin Arnold
Running time: 92 minutes
Rated: R

High school and horror movies go together like… well, they just go together. The horrors of adolescence and its accompanying trauma has always been the perfect backdrop for any number of murderous monsters and maniacs. In general, though, the typical coupling of horror and high school means a set number of things: attractive but stupid youngsters who partake in drink and sex and are invariably dismembered or dispatched in gruesome ways. However, the truly horrifying part of this union is not the results but the staggeringly predictability that these events happen. That makes it quite refreshing, then, when something different comes along.

“The Final”, the first-time effort by director Joey Stewart, is a tale that, like most tales, has been told before: the downtrodden outcast students of Hohn High School have been tormented for years by the beautiful and popular students and they are now about to get their revenge. Truly, under most circumstances, this would fall into “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before” territory, but writer Jason Kabolati takes one of the most standard of horror staples and turns it into something quite different and quite good. Instead of hitting tired clichéd notes, Kabolati gives us a tale that has no good guys and no bad guys, only victims. Instead of focusing on blood and gore and cheap scares, we get a movie that is, what I like to call, the spiritual child to the “Saw” series. In “Saw”, the focus (at least early in the series) was to make people gain appreciation for their lives. “The Final” takes a group of people having to deal with the consequences for their actions – not simply consequences for drinking or smoking dope or having sex, but for the myriads of little crimes we commit against each other because we see someone as different or odd.

“The Final” also differs from its brethren in that the movie is virtually bloodless. In some ways, it reminded me more of a European horror movie than your standard American film. It was thought provoking and not just in the “whodunit” way.  More movies should seek to challenge us this way — in spite of the fact that most genre fans would much rather have their scares safe with a minimum amount of soul searching.

Though for all this praise, it is not a perfect movie. There are points early on where it would be easy to dismiss this as derivative or as “just another teen horror movie,” a few times where the dialogue makes you groan a little and some fairly predictable plot points that get us to the meat of the story. However, Stewart, Kabolati and a fine group of young actors – particularly Marc Donato (as the leader of the outcasts) and Lindsay Seidel (who makes a deliciously wicked turn as the outcast, Emily) all help to make this better than average January fare and even better than average anytime horror fare.

Gorehound will probably hate it for its lack of blood, and the hormonal male segment of horror fans will hate it for the distinct lack of nudity of any kind. For the rest of us, however, you get a movie that asks one question: what did I do to get here?  For the local Dallas filmmakers who put together “The Final,” they took something very ordinary and made it something very different and very good. That’s how we got here.