The AFM (American Film Market) is a very big deal. Every year thousands of people attend and hundreds of films are shown by hopeful indie filmmakers trying to get picked up by a studio for a distribution deal. The festival ended last week but the deals are still coming - one of those deals was between After Dark Films and Agora Entertainment for their horror film The Final.
The Final will join 7 other films in the After Dark Horrorfest 4: 8 Films to Die For which include Hidden, Dread, The Graves, Lake Mungo and ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction. Here is the official synopsis for The Final (as well as a trailer for the film):
“In the scenic and remote county of Rocky Branch, Texas, the Workley ranch house would become the infamous scene known internationally on the internet as "The Final."
"Dane, an awkward student with a deadly vendetta and suicidal tendencies, leads a group of outcasts who plot to avenge the years of humiliation they faced by the popular students at Hohn High School. Employing ideas inspired both from their classes as well as from horror films they watched, the outcasts turn the tables on the popular students who made sport of them."
"After receiving a lake-house granted to him in his uncle's will, Dane and his friends, Jack, Ravi, Andy and Emily prepare for a single night that will leave their tormentors scarred for life... physically and emotionally.”
The film, like most never-before-heard-of movies, stars some relative unknown actors and actresses – Marc Donato (Degrassi: The Next Generation), Jascha Washington, Whitney Hoy, Lindsay Seidel and Justin Arnold. Newcomer Joey Stewart is behind the camera for the first time working from Jason Kabolati’s script, who also produced The Final. Serving as executive producers on the film were Edward Lewis Von Hohn and Bill Randle.
It may be hard to discern but the question the mask tormentor asks at the end of the trailer is “What did you do to deserve this?”
That’s my question as well.
Take a look at the poster for The Final; a group of students with guns standing in a school hallway with other kids laying dead or dying in front of them. Remind you of anything? It should; 10 years ago mass murderers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School with guns and homemade bombs then killed 13 people, injured 21 others and then turn the guns on themselves, all in the name of revenge for being bullied.
I realize this isn’t the first time a movie has been made that hearkens back to the events surrounding April 20, 1999. Gus Van Sant told a very similar story in 2003 with his movie Elephant but that wasn’t a glorification or praise of the massacre at Columbine. It was more of a story that told of the day’s events through multiple eyes. The Final is going in a whole different direction by justifying the violence against the teens' tormentors. Director Joey Stewart said this about The Final in a press release:
"The Final is about being picked on, bullied, and tormented, and the retaliation and revenge that it incurs. As the characters feel that life has no meaning, they make a pact for revenge that will teach these kids a valuable life lesson. It's about what happens when people are pushed to the brink of despair, and the consequences that the responsible parties must face."
After Dark EVP Stephanie Caleb added this statement that I personally find chilling:
"This haunting and vengeful film is a perfect addition to this year's line-up. Anyone who has experienced the difficulties of high school will find themselves empathizing with both the nerds and the popular kids alike.”
It’s almost like this studio is saying “If you ever had a bad word to say about someone in high school, don’t be surprised when they justifiably come down on you and your friends and kill you.”
I realize this is a fictional story of horror but is this really the message Hollywood wants to send to impressionable teens? Maybe the studio just didn't see the connection - making a film that justifies teen on teen violence - but I would think that someone along the chain would have seen the connection. We already know that Harris and Klebold were recreating a scene they saw in The Matrix and that music and video games glorifying excessive amount of violence against people played a major role in their lives (yeah, yeah, violent video games don't make kids violent - it was all part of the pattern here).
Would it be much of a stretch to think that After Dark and Agora Entertainment should have taken a step back, looked at the bigger picture and said “We should change the motive behind the killers' revenge”? Where does Hollywood draw the line in what they're willing to put on the screen?
It took 10 years before someone justified the bullying the Columbine killers received that made them snap. If the same timeline holds true, then in another 2 years someone is going to make a movie about the terrorists of 9/11 being heroes for striking back at their “tormentors.” Then the director will make a ridiculous statement about “what happens when people are pushed to the brink of despair, and the consequences that the responsible parties must face.” That would be followed by the EVP of a studio praising their decision to pick the film up for distribution by saying, “This haunting and vengeful film is a perfect addition to this year's line-up.”
What’s next? Giving us insight on a child molester and why he's justified in his actions because women ignore him? How about a film saying it’s OK to abuse a woman because she forgot to wash her husband’s clothes or make his dinner the right way? All absurd statements you say - and there is no way those stories would ever get told as a film. But 10 years ago people were saying the same thing about the story of teens killing teens in revenge for bullying.
What do you think?