Finale is an intriguing film. It's clear that it was made on a shoestring budget. None of the actors are recognizable from previous work. The effects are good, but not outstanding. It has an aura of independence and striving that's absent from a lot of big budget, studio fare. And, although it's haphazard in spots, it's genuinely scary and disturbing. Many films do a lot less with a lot more money.
The story involves a mother, Helen (Carolyn Hauck), dealing with the apparent suicide of her son, Sean (Warren Bryson). She's convinced he didn't kill himself. While cleaning Sean's house out with her husband and other children, she finds a series of notebooks filled with newspaper clippings and crazed ramblings, often focusing on the time 10:28. The house has also been splashed with black paint, covering every reflective surface.
The family all deals with the suicide in different ways. Sean's sister Kathryn (Suthi Picotte) joins the drama club at her high school. His father Charlie (Geoff Burkman) gets quiet and focuses on work. And Helen just starts to lose her grip on reality. Whenever she visits Sean's grave, a mysterious woman in black is there, leaving dead raven's on the grave site. Helen begins to have vivid dreams of Sean with his girlfriend before his death. And she begins to believe that he was killed by a demon called the Collector. Then one night when she is late picking Kathryn up from play practice, she sees a young man stab himself to death, and in the reflection in a window she sees the Collector controlling the young man's hand, plunging the knife in over and over. The local priest is dismissive of her pleas for help.
At this point, she loses almost all reason. She takes her own black paint and runs through her home, covering all the mirrors and reflective surfaces, and greatly disturbing her husband and daughter. She plunges deeper into her investigation, suspecting even the local priest and Mrs. Bliss (Elizabeth Holmes) the drama teacher of involvement in an evil cult. More deaths and demonic harassment follow.
Despite its low budget, Finale is an effective film. It's atmospheric, creepy and tense. Writer / director John Michael Elfers lets the story unfold organically, with the audience discovering information at the same time Helen does, allowing for a couple of good surprises. He is able to maintain a feeling of dread and disquiet throughout. A real sense that any of the characters could die at any moment (and some do) makes the threat to them very believable. The effects are for the most part lo-fi but work very well. Lots of nice splatter and several fun death scenes. The mirror effects, in which a character can be seen apparently doing harm to themselves but in a reflection the Collector and various demons are visible attacking them, are also done very well.
The performances are good, with a couple of exceptions. John Lawson as the priest and Elizabeth Holmes as Mrs. Bliss leave a little to be desired. Carolyn Hauck and Suthi Picotte do exceptionally well, however. Hauck particularly commits to her role as the mentally deteriorating mother desperate to save her family. The two also work together very well, their chemistry giving the feeling of a genuine mother / daughter relationship. And that's what makes the film work as well as it does, despite its slightly overlong climax. The viewers feel a real affection for the characters. We want them to survive, to succeed. So often in horror films, the characters are lifeless, dull and unappealing, or just lacking in substance. Not here. We can recognize the foibles and fights of our own families. This gives their tribulations an honest emotional appeal. Finale is an enjoyably creepy hour and a half. Recommended.
The Making of Finale - A Trial by Fire