[review by JA Kerswell]
|THE FINALE features a unique looking killer.
THE FINALE is an endearingly quirky - if ultimately frustrating - masked slasher whodunnit. Students and teachers at a theatre camp are killed by someone dressed in an elaborate Venetian costume whilst they rehearse for a play. Refreshingly offbeat, the film boasts some fun performances and witty touches but lets its evident love for musical theatre dull its horror aspects so much that they take a backseat for its nearly two-hour running time.
Sagan (Gabrielle Reyes) is persuaded to follow in the footsteps of her successful older sister and attend the Stage Left theatre camp; where she ends up with the lead in a new musical called ‘What Mary Saw’ - about a High School student whose father is a killer. There she meets an eclectic group of students, including the moody Nixon (Parker Davis Gray) - whose bad-boy act melts when they start to fall for each other. The staff call the camp ‘the clinic’ and it’s run this year by the highly strung Miss Medina (Liza Marie Gonzalez) after its director (Jeffrey Schmidt) feigns a family tragedy to sneak off to his mistress (but who we see being murdered near the beginning of the film). She is joined by other members of staff including a sleazeball actor Bernard (Brandon Potter) and a timid singing coach Steph (Madison Calhoun), who seem to have a history together. When Charles (Joel Ferrell), another teacher, is murdered at the theatre after hours and his body is staged at his home with jazz hands (!), the police begin to investigate both students and staff to see if they can uncover who is behind the killing.
However, as it falsely appears that the murder happened away from the camp, the preparations and training continue unabated for the play. Yet, as the students are distracted, it is clear that the killer has not finished their deadly business as more players corpse on stage …
|Gabrielle Reyes impresses as the Final Girl in THE FINALE.
As with many other direct-to-streaming slashers at this price point, THE FINALE has a few shortcomings - although it looks pretty good for a low-budget, crowd-funded film. As might be expected with such a large ensemble cast, the performances are variable - but the leads are great; especially Gabrielle Reyes as Sagan. The writing is pretty snappy, too - although, again common with some slashers at this budget point, could have done with some judicial editing to bring the running time closer to a taut 90 minutes. Despite an economic budget, the filmmakers are admirably ambitious and the movie benefits from some nicely realised surreal alcohol and drug-infused hallucination scenes. The killer is pretty creepy-looking, too - with their Venetian costume accented with almost Kabuki-style make-up. The film also has an enjoyable streak of black humour - with my favourite bit being where a character’s cries for help are drowned out by someone belting out show tunes!
However, the film bucks what you might expect from a theatre-based slasher movie. And that’s arguably part of its problem. Other examples - such as STAGEFRIGHT (1987), Michele Soavi’s exemplary marriage of the giallo and North American slasher, or even THE CLOWN AT MIDNIGHT (1998) - have used the claustrophobic setting to amplify suspense. That isn’t really the case with THE FINALE, as the film doesn’t really utilise its setting for cat-and-mouse theatrics until the last 15 minutes of its running time. There are murders peppered throughout, but thriller elements are undercut by the myriad of cast storylines, scenes outside the theatre and constant cutting to the police investigation. Although the interaction between the detectives (one played by the film’s director Christie Vela and the other by its writer Michael Federico) is certainly entertaining enough. The pair have great chemistry and in real life host the horror podcast Terror and Tacos. Still, it somewhat prevents the film from building up a head of steam for tension.
|Director Christie Vela and the film's writer Michael Federico put in double duty as the detectives investigating the murders.
As might be expected, it closes with a showdown between survivors and the killer on the stage at the theatre camp. This is proceeded by some rousing chase scenes after a character has his throat slit during a rehearsal, which leads to the students scattering to escape whilst being chased by the killer. However, this mayhem is a little rushed and should really have made up the final third of the movie not just the last 15 minutes. The motivation for the murders is a little half-baked, too, and with a few nonsensical choices made by a couple of characters (including the Final Girl), it - somewhat ironically given the film’s title - ultimately isn’t a truly satisfying finale.
Filmed in the summer of 2019 through March 2020, the original title of this Dallas shot slasher was FINAL DRESS, referring to the last dress rehearsal of a play or musical before previews or opening night. The film was another victim of COVID, which explains why it took so long to reach streaming.
Although it never really coalesces into a consistently effective thriller, there’s much to enjoy with THE FINALE - from its admirably diverse cast, dark humour and a general sense of fun. If you temper your expectations I think many viewers will still get a (high) kick out of it.
THE FINALE is currently streaming on Amazon.
female: 4 / male: 6
1) Male stabbed in the back
2) Female killed (implied))
3) Male has throat slashed
4) Male stabbed in the back with scissors
5) Female forced to ingest magic mushrooms
6) Male has throat slit
7) Female killed with nailgun
8) Female seen dead
9) Male slashed with sword
10) Male run through with sword (off screen)
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