The Final | Horror | rated R | starring Marc Donato, Lindsey Seidel | 1:33 mins

Harassed since childhood, a group of high school misfits form a plan to strike back against the A-group, the jocks and cheerleaders who have made their lives hell. Those jocks and the cheerleader show up at a party only to be drugged and awaken chained to the floor while our misfits, in various frightening costumes, extract revenge inspired by movies and lessons learned in history and physics classes.

One of the 2010 Afterdark Horrorfest 8 Films to Die For, “The Final” (as in exam) is quite different than the rest of the Horrorfest entries, which is what made it such a pleasant surprise for me. It isn’t really a horror movie which is going to dissapoint many. Not as hardcore as the poster would indicate. It is more focused on it’s characters and movie references than the usual Horrorfest’s pornographic obsession with gore, which will dissapoint the gorehounds. Think softer than torture porn, harder than a teen revenge story.

The first surprise came with how well set up it is. We spend plenty of time with both the outcasts and the in-crowd. The outcasts are pathetic in their own right and symathetic given how brutal the in crowd is to them, but as pointlessly vile as the in crowd is the movie at least gives them a personality. The girls fueled by sex and the jocks by laughs. Not demonizing the in crowd leaves the movie open for us to shift alliances as the outcasts plan goes from bad to psychotic. As the plan unfolds Dane (Marc Donato) takes center stage as the leader of the kidnappers with a commanding monologue expressing the pent up rage he’s harbored toward this group for years. He muses on the sheer pointlessness of the torment they endured that broke them and brought them all to this point. Standing before the jocks and cheerleaders in a gas mask  he tells them that he doesn’t plan to kill them, but by the end of the night they will wish he had.

Even better is Lindsay Seidel, who delivers a flat-out terrific performance as Emily, pig-tailed goth girl whose torment at the hands of the girls is more nakedly emotional. Emily’s break is more complicated than Dane’s and Seidel plays her inner termoil like an acting pro. She is a bit horrified at how far Dane is willing to go, yet she relishes in getting right in the face of her tormentors and dishing it back. It’s the most compelling character/performance and the reason to see the movie.

The 2nd big surprise is the movie references. As a revenge fantasy I was expecting “Saw” traps with obvious winks and nods. Much to my delight I got more clever references that require people to have actually seen the movies to get. We get “No Country for Old Men” and a lengthy piece from “Audition” (again performed by Seidel beautifully).

For the most part, director Joey Stewart has made a film on a shoe-string budget and kept it from feeling that way. “The Final” takes place almost entirely in one room and it doesn’t feel confined. When the movie cuts out of this set-piece to the in crowd’s token black friend trying to seek rescue is where it falls apart. The kid seeking help winds up at the house of – naturally – a racist civil war buff. The entire story thread is terrible on every level.  

Against all odds, “The Final” works. For young Seidel’s performance and the low key difference between this and most other Afterdark Horrorfest movies, I enjoyed it quite a bit.