★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
This savage and grisly new Danish production features a carefully threaded story line that follows two young women, stuck working at a lonely rural gas station, who are subjected to what at first appears to be creepy pranking turns into something wholly sinister. This movie will reward hardened horror fans. Not for the faint of heart!
Directed by Søren Juul Petersen
Finale is a tightly wound bit of nightmare fuel whose director, Petersen, is making his directorial debut at the youthful age of 56. It is a confident and skillfully executed initiation, as if this were a movie he had been nursing for a very long time, and finally got a big break. He has woven a narrative that backs up all of the plot threads with logical causes and effects. Character decisions are carefully handled, with logical justifications for actions often picked apart in lesser films. Most importantly for a film like this, the protagonists are sympathetic and well-drawn characters.
Peteresen is either brazen or brilliant by opening his film very much like James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), where Edward Van Sloane greets the audience in front of a curtain, complete with the fair warning. There is a reason for this introduction as this story unfolds. This film intertwines two story threads that are just out of time sequence with each other that are woven together eventually to collide at just the right moment.
The opening scene of the movie reveals a confused and frightened young woman, Agnes (Anne Bergeldt) being held captive in a storage container, beaten, confused, and justifiably freaked out.
Then, we jump back in time to the second story thread, where we see Agnes being dropped off by her young doctor boyfriend Benjamin (Kristoffer Fabricius) at a remote gas station that her father owns, to have one last shift as a favor to her dad. She will be manning gas station with Belinda (Karin Michelsen), a tough blue-collar employee who resents Agnes’ privileged life. It is a very slow night when Denmark is playing in the Euro Finals in soccer, so most Danes are at home watching the game. The lonely life of a gas station attendant becomes something dreadful as it is revealed that there have been a series of local young women have been abducted.
The few people who do drop by the gas station are a sketchy lot. The women are on edge the whole evening. Little things begin to suggest that they are being watched and toyed with. As we periodically switch back to the other narrative thread, we are told that Agnes has been captured to be the participant in a twisted circus online show put on for the amusement of a paying audience, both live and online. The charismatic and wicked ringleader (Damon Younger) gleefully engages with the audience, both watching the movie, and the paying customers within the story. Clever!
It’s masterful foreshadowing, as the story threads start propelling towards each other as the grim reality of fate becomes clear. How did Agnes get caught in this predicament? And, more importantly, can she escape? The collision of the timeline offers up foreboding fate, and interestingly, it never felt like a spoiler. It occurs right about the end of the second act, so the third (and gruesome) third act still provided plenty of pins and needles.
There are direct allusions to Roman Gladiator games. Not the kind where men fought each other with nets and tridents, but the kind where Jews were fed to the lions, and the audience got to decide the fate of the helpless victims in the arena. The further suggestion gave me the self-conscious willies as I realized that I am an audience supporting (fake) carnage, and it left some time for some uncomfortable self-reflection.
At its dark heart, Finale a torture movie. I hesitate to call it torture porn, but it does not flinch in showing some graphic, painful, and achingly horrifying violence upon its key characters. It also takes its time getting there. Although it slow rolls out the brutality, the plot never lags. I am not ordinarily a fan of this type of movie, but when you buy into the plight of the protagonists, it is a grimly rewarding experience. This film is closer to Audition than it is to Hostel, if you are looking for an similar movie. Another good comparable film, if you like this, would be Marc Martinez Jordan’s Framed which came out last year. Finale certainly dares you not to watch.
Denmark isn’t particularly well known for its horror tradition. The Lars VonTrier disturbing AntiChrist and the somber lycanthrope film When Animals Dream are prominent Danish productions, but going into this film, the International pedigree is a bit of an unknown. You should know that if you can get past subtitles, this should be a very accessible film for veteran horror audiences. It’s not an art-house horror-or-not abstract piece. It is a full-blooded scare fest, and it places Petersen as a Euro horror director to follow, along with Alexadre Aja, André Øvredal, Coralie Fargeat, and Julia Ducarneau. Petersen’s not young, but he’s definitely new and promising.
Kudos to all the actors, who turn what in most cases would be hopelessly unfortunate victims into compelling people you root for. Anna Bergeldt was particularly engaging, and the same can be said for Karin Michelsen, and the two of them have great chemistry. They are two culturally very different women who come to bond over crisis, and it’s quite convincing. This is not a film for the timid, and it will certainly turn off a good portion of its audience, but if you can stomach some brutality, this is a wonderfully paced and plotted movie that will leave you exhausted and impressed right up to its… finale.
Finale was playing at the FilmQuest film festival in Provo, and is still working its way through the festival circuit, where it has received plenty of acclaim. It won Best Feature Film at The Horror Hound Film Festival and the Motor City Nightmares International Film Festival. This is however, a film that likely will not rate highly with a more conventional audience, as it may be a bit much to take in It is not currently rated, but it would be a hard R for grisly violence, cruelty, and nudity. It is not yet available for streaming, but since it has been in the film festival circuit for nearly a year, I would expect to see this available in the next few months.